(Ted Cruz | Source: Fox News)
It’s hard to be a leader if no one follows. On Monday, it was as if Ted Cruz saw himself charging up San Juan Hill only to look back to see Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, and other Senate Republicans still sitting around the campfire, pointing up at him and laughing. Apparently, he’s decided to position himself as the hero of the Tea Party, no matter the immediate consequences.
Republicans say he is immune to the sleeping giant of Latino voting in Texas because of his last name. It’s no sleeping giant. It’s a giant attempting to throw off its chains.
Ted Cruz did not run for the Senate in order to govern, and certainly not to work with others to find governing consensus. He wants to rule. Not only does he have the Joe McCarthy snarl, lists of unfounded accusations and conspiracy theories, and the ability to fire up groups of scared white people who think their comfortable lives are being stolen by aliens and socialists while feeling powerless to stop the slide, but, like McCarthy, he’s also schooled in a conservative Catholic doctrine that Pope Francis would find disconcerting.
Cruz, figuring he’s got a Senate seat for life with his Texas base, probably believes that only political calculations he needs to make are those involving his presidential ambitions. You may wonder: How the hell do you people in Texas keep turning out these lunatics?
It wasn’t that long ago that Texas had statewide officeholders like Ann Richards and populists Jim Hightower and Jim Mattox. Oil and agriculture money were dominant, and U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen was the norm—a business centrist who supported New Deal and Great Society programs as long as they didn’t harm the financial industries and taxes were low. The Hispanic vote was growing.
Then Karl Rove and new Republican money moved in.
Texas’s size meant a good deal of money was required to buy time in more than a dozen media markets. Once powerful unions, such as the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, became shadows of their former selves, while international capital, petroleum, and development money replaced home-grown cattle and wildcat oil wealth. At the same time, technology industry growth was creating a generation of libertarian technocrats, who care very little about community and the poor. In other words, Texas was becoming like the rest of the country, only without any constraints.
Rick Perry and George W. Bush were Rove creations, but Ted Cruz was carrying it too far for the Rove crowd. And rising social networks made it possible to create instant sensations.
Opportunist that he is, little-known former Texas Solicitor General Cruz challenged the state’s lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, for the nomination to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Dewhurst held the most powerful position in state government, a huge lead in the polls and a treasure chest of campaign money from his own fortune when the race began. He also owned a permanent suntan to rival Boehner’s and a sandpaper personality. Had he won the nomination and then the election, Dewhurst promised to be nothing more than right-wing furniture in the Senate.
But as Dewhurst planned for a Senate sinecure, the Texas legislature’s attempts to gerrymander election districts led to courtroom battles, which delayed the primaries from the spring into the summer. By the time of the primary, Cruz was able to force a run-off, though still far behind. And then in a July election, with a turnout consisting largely of the Tea Party faithful, Cruz’s time spent talking to every Tea Party tea party and Rotary Club in the state paid off with an eight-point victory.
For the moment, Ted Cruz prances and preens like a puffed-up rooster that won’t jump into the cock fight. He may burn up like an over-inflated Hindenburg and spend his Senate career bringing down the house at Chamber of Commerce meetings in Levelland. But probably not. That’s not what he’s after.
He wants it all. He talks endlessly about his father’s hegira from opposition to Batista in Cuba to his embrace of Reaganism, thrilling love-struck audiences with his father’s description of Castro, while letting them believe, until the punchline, that he is talking about Obama.
Are we stuck with this demagogue for decades? Republicans say he is immune to the sleeping giant of Latino voting in Texas because of his last name. But in the 2012 elections, Cruz ran just six points ahead of Mitt Romney with Texas Hispanic voters in his Senate race against a critically under-funded Democratic opponent and far behind other Hispanic candidates in their races. Polling of Hispanic voters shows a very high level of support for the Affordable Care Act.
Besides the Latino vote in Texas is no sleeping giant. It’s a giant attempting to throw off its chains.
Despite voter suppression at the state and local levels, the Latino vote grew from 20 percent to 25 percent of the Texas vote in the last presidential election. That’s why the Republicans are fighting for implementation of voter ID legislation that would require a driver’s license or voter ID card from the Texas Department of Public Safety. Nearly one-third of Texas counties, home to 15 percent of the state’s Hispanic citizens, do not have driver’s license offices. (Concealed handgun permits do qualify for voting, in case you were wondering.)
Then, of course, the state’s legislative war against women may also change the look of the active electorate. If you see that little Red Rooster, maybe we’ll be sending him home.
Geoff Rips is a former editor of the Texas Observer.