Ted Cruz needs something, badly. He can't rally Tea Party support without it, and he can't, then, win the Oval Office in 2016.
The Republican senator from Texas needs a new Other.
It was easy for 2008 presidential nominee Mitt Romney; he had that Muslim Kenyan, the socialist with radical buddies. Romney had Obama. But the GOP's "Obama as Other" solution will be gone in the next election, so Cruz is in trouble -- and he's sniffing around now like a ravenous dog looking for a meal.
And he may just have found it.
Cruz is no dummy; in fact, he's more like a brilliant bully. Last year, he was able to cajole and pressure enough senators, like his Tea Party buddy, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and a significant clutch of House Republicans to move forward with the unconstitutional act of shutting down the government of the United States of America -- ostensibly in a maneuver to kill ObamaCare.
After the dust cleared from the shutdown, the national disdain for the GOP only let up weeks later, when public scorn swiveled to the glitch-rich rollout of ObamaCare. And in the final analysis, Cruz's shutdown turned out to be pretty much of a fiasco for the Republican Party.
But as an act of political messaging, the shutdown was brilliant. To the millions of Tea Party supporters whom Cruz courted then and now, it was a political orgasm. The "enemy" -- the nation's government -- had been ignominiously closed, and the afterglow lasts even beyond the fact that the shutdown is perceived to have been a colossal failure.
And that's why Cruz's latest, seemingly outlandish demand to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), President Obama's program that has provided deportation relief to young undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children, is right up there with shutting down the government.
Cruz wants to put more than 2 million young people in deportation proceedings, upend their lives and reaffirm his consistent message: Under Republican control, Congress will reject any form of immigration reform, or "amnesty," as Cruz reframes the issue.
If Cruz's scheme were to come to pass, the damage to the country's economy would be substantial. Economic hardship, human misery and the further division of American society would be guaranteed. Racial polarization, already a horrific problem across our country, would advance and possibly spin out of control in a 1960s-style societal clash.
On the surface, Cruz's plan does not seem to make much sense -- for the country or for Cruz himself. How would inflicting a deep wound on the flesh of the country benefit America? And how would it help him connect with a broad coalition of voters, and therefore get closer to the presidency?
This is where Cruz's brilliant mind kicks in. He is not trying to get a broad coalition of voters to support his run for the presidency.
As Romney's failed run for the White House amply demonstrated, Republicans can't win their party's nomination without appealing to the far-right voter. America watched as Romney simultaneously tried to maintain viability for the general election and appeal to Republican primary voters hungry to hear the looped message of Obama's "failure."
For five years, the president has been the ideal canvas upon which Tea Party Republicans express their phobias about their future, the demographic transformation of America and its impact on the fabric of society. No Tea Party protest would be complete without the transcendent fear inherent in the "We want our country back" posters.
But for Cruz and his many allies in the GOP, the 2014 election represents a challenge not faced by Romney. Even to the hardcore Tea Partyer, the reality is looming: Obama is not on the ballot, nor will he ever run again.
A new "Other" is therefore needed.
Yet Cruz is converting successful, educated and ambitious young people looking to make their contribution to the American Dream into a mortal threat. The senator has found the political weapon to divide conservative Republicans from far-right Tea Partyers and win the nomination in the process. As Cruz has discussed in the past, he believes that moderate Republicans like former presidential nominees Bob Dole, John McCain and Romney are serial losers in presidential contests. In the end, he reasons, mainstream Republicans will vote for the GOP nominee -- even if he is an off-the-charts reactionary.
Demanding the deportation of the Dreamers could give Cruz an advantage over other 2016 Republican presidential aspirants. He would be the strong man of the Republican Party, not letting the pain and suffering of millions of people get in the way of his ideological vision. Indeed, by appealing in this way to Tea Party Republicans, he would simultaneously be "genuine" in his conviction and demonstrate the hard line of a leader ready to take the country "back" for his supporters.
Yet if his anti-immigrant crusade fails this year, like the government shutdown gambit did in 2013, he still wins. That is the strategic brilliance of Cruz. What better issue to motivate Republican Tea Partyers in the midterms than mass deportations?
And should mainstream Republicans with a clear eye about the GOP's rapidly diminishing chances of winning a national election after serially alienating Asian-Americans, Hispanics, LGBTQ people, women and other fast-growing voter groups succeed in stopping him, he still wins.
Sacrificing the lives of millions of Dreamers and their families appears for Ted Cruz to be an insignificant price to pay for the presidency. His full-throated appeal to deport immigrants will drive his most ardent supporters to the polls in November -- and simultaneously position Cruz to sweep the upcoming presidential primaries. Brilliant.