Why Democrats Love Giving Ted Cruz Credit for Republican Failures

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 1 2014 9:04 AM

Why Democrats Love Giving Ted Cruz Credit for Republican Failures

180224625-sen-ted-cruz-speaks-during-the-exempt-america-from
His fault

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

As soon as the House GOP leadership fumbled its border bill, Democrats started blaming Ted Cruz. "Blaming" might be too strong a word—Democrats were practically vibrating with delight at another chance to portray John Boehner as a simpering loser who keeps getting dunked on by a freshman senator from Texas.

Advertisement

Democrats do this because Cruz is famous, and—they believe—primarily associated with the 2013 government shutdown. The press doesn't do much to contradict the message.

But does Cruz really run the House conservative caucus? Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who's been in the Senate since 1997, did plenty of whipping and case-building of his own. Betsy Woodruff confirms what I've heard about Sessions bringing Alabama's House delegation on board; Rep. Mo Brooks became one of the House conservatives most ready to explain why it wasn't worth passing a compromise bill. Cruz played a role, but the Republican opposition to a flimsy "hey, we did something" bill did not need to be taught.

The Cruz-as-puppetmaster storyline has a way of erasing other Republicans from these sorts of battles. In the winter of 2012, the most prominent conservative opponent of the U.N. disabilities treaty was probably Rick Santorum; he returned to the Senate and to the public debate to lobby colleagues against ratification.

But who's now given credit for pushing Republicans to oppose the treaty? The answer is in Jeff Toobin's profile of Ted Cruz.

Cruz made his influence felt in the Senate even before he took office. He was invited to join the weekly lunch of the Senate Republican caucus on December 4, 2012, which happened to be the day the full Senate was debating the United Nations treaty on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The treaty seemed fairly uncontroversial, but Cruz, as the tribune of the Tea Party movement, was opposed. “I was a newly elected senator who hadn’t even been sworn in yet, but I did just pass on, having just come from the campaign trail, that issues of U.S. sovereignty resonate powerfully with the American people,” Cruz told me. The issues in the treaty were broadly similar to those in the Medellín case, in that they involved the interplay between American law and international institutions.
Dick Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who is the assistant majority leader, recalled Cruz’s influence on Republicans at that lunch. “These people walked out scared as hell,” he said. “And I thought, This guy is wasting no time to flex his muscles over there.”

I don't deny that Cruz played a role, but it's telling that a powerful Democrat went on the record to make sure Cruz, and not some has-been, got the credit.

UPDATE: Robert Costa is up with a well-reported look at how House conservatives communicate with cruz. No denying it, but the advice he's quoted giving them -- telling Steve King, for example, that any immigration bill could be turned into a Democratic bill via the conference process -- is well-known. Reality, and the perspicacity of the conservative base (which follows what Congress is doing via talk radio and social media and Fox News), make it difficult for Republicans to buckle. Cruz is just the most visible acto, the one that Democrats benefit most from attacking. Five years ago, they were doing the same with Rush Limbaugh.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.