Well gang, it’s officially here. It’s Presidential primary season! The festivities got off to a real bang early Monday morning with the first hat thrown conclusively into the ring. That Stetson belongs to Texas’ junior Senator and government shutdown advocator Ted Cruz. Ending months of very little suspense, Cruz tweeted “I’m running for President and I hope to earn your support!” to his 370,000 followers.
In a piece entitled Ted Cruz Hopes Early Campaign Entry Will Focus Voters’ Attention, writers Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times quote longtime Republican strategist Dave Carney as saying, “It’s the shiny object principle. He wants to be first, get in the conversation, not show any doubt or hesitation.” If there are two things at which Cruz excels, it is the use of shiny objects to distract constituents from real issues and a refusal to second guess himself. Thus the announcement bore a fitting similarity to the man making it.
After capturing the zeitgeist and the ire of lawmakers from both parties during October 2013’s partial government shutdown, GOP rainmakers no less authoritative than longtime Arizona Senator John McCain labeled Cruz’s pointless stoking of the House, “a fool’s errand.” New York Republican Congressman Peter King minced a few less words in observing, “My sound bite is to say he’s a fraud…I start with that, and then I go on. It takes me two or three minutes to explain it.”
With just three years on the Senate floor, Cruz has certainly cut some kind of figure. Love him or hate him, he’s made sure we all know his name. However when it comes to gearing up for general elections, it’s easy to dissipate into a footnote. As the Times piece notes, “in recent months, Mr. Cruz has been overshadowed by other potential Republican candidates in the early competition for donors, staff, volunteers and news coverage. Most notably, Mr. Walker has drawn attention from those interested in an alternative to former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida.”
There are only so many right wing base unifying government shutdowns a man can leverage. Unfortunately for Cruz he’s now going to have to deal with highly skeptical Republican moderates who rightfully question whether the Senator’s loyalties lie with the nation – or with number one.
Though numerous GOP strategists have concluded that a prolonged primary season is bad business for the party (as it was in 2012 when Romney’s conservative pandering pivot fell completely flat), this part of the show is actually kind of fun for the rest of us. As our own Jason Easley wrote this week, disingenuous circus clown Donald Trump beat low-class liberals to the fray by immediately launching a fake birther conversation about Cruz’s legal right to run. Whee!
And if there’s anything more delightful than watching a senior statesman with a long record of accomplishment flat out dismiss the idea of a one-trick narcissist in the Oval Office, I’ve yet to discover it. On this past Sunday’s edition of NBC’s Meet the Press while addressing the topic of climate change, California Governor Jerry Brown told host Chuck Todd, “That man betokens such a level of ignorance and a direct falsification of the existing scientific data. It’s shocking and I think that man has rendered himself absolutely unfit to be running for office.”
Here’s the thing though. I struggle to believe that Cruz is delusional enough to think he can win the nomination. Smarmy and dangerous? Yes. Stupid? Not at all. He pulled in just 4 percent of Republican primary voters in the latest CNN/ORC poll. And as I’ve argued already, the support of the GOP establishment is far from guaranteed. So why put himself and his family through the grueling, often humiliating process that is party vetting?
I offer that Cruz and Trump are actually fairly similar. Ignore either man too long and like a pouty puppy, he’s going to do something to get attention. The conversation has shifted away from Cruz for far too long. He can stand the ignominy of primary season. He can handle being called “a wacko bird” by McCain. But what he can’t suffer is our silence. That gnawing, aching need for limelight, even more so than Cruz’s disingenuous flouting of science in exchange for base adoration, is what makes him unfit to lead. See: Sarah Palin 2008.