08/01/2012 09:33 am ET Updated Oct 01, 2012

What Happened in Texas


When Rick Perry isn't conservative enough for your political party, there is either a social revolution coming or a disproportionately small group of people are exercising undue influence over democratic processes. But there is always something more relevant to elections than just principles and candidates.

Ted Cruz's victory over the lieutenant governor of Texas is making much of Cruz's uber-conservatism and soaring rhetoric but he is also the benefactor of a few circumstances. The first is nothing more the getting the advantage of the slow-moving legal system. Redrawing of the state's legislative lines during the latest round of redistricting in Texas prompted a lawsuit claiming voting rights were being violated and discrimination was being practiced against minorities. The majority Republican Party in the state wanted to optimize control and increase the odds that more of its members would get elected. But the gerrymandering went before a federal court in a series of arguments and appeals that postponed the Texas primaries for both parties from March to late May.

Ted Cruz used every moment to raise his profile. If, however, the election had been held as scheduled, almost all observers believe David Dewhurst, the defeated lieutenant governor, would have easily won and Cruz would have been referred to as a generation of future leaders waiting for their moment to serve. I don't think too much can be made of the legal delay of the election. The longer Cruz was able to campaign, the wider the display of his public speaking skills to motivate the Tea Party conservatives that were interested in slapping around their former lover Gov. Rick Perry, who had failed to deliver on certain campaign promises.

Dewhurst, of course, had aesthetic shortcomings. His stage presence lacks a bit of inspiration and energy and he has the patrician and fastidious air of a man with lots of money and more options than the U.S. Senate. Dewhurst's campaign was also poorly run by Dave Carney, the man who led Rick Perry into electoral oblivion during the presidential campaign. Dewhurst generally avoided reporters and issues questions and limited his exposure by rejecting debate offers and public forums that might have been of some benefit. Instead, he spent a fortune (estimated at $25 million now) on TV advertising that promised to shut down the border with Mexico, tripling the number of "boots on the ground." (Spending increase?)

Perry's endorsement was a further complication. The animating forces in the Texas GOP tend to be marshaled by the Tea Party these days and they are disappointed that the governor, who pushed a law requiring sonograms for women considering abortions, is not sufficiently conservative or anti-tax. Cutting a few billion from Texas public schools and forcing the release of tens of thousands of teachers was viewed by the Tea Party as a modest beginning. The governor's Texas approval ratings in the wake of his miserable presidential campaign, which in one recent poll were at 29 percent, did not help Dewhurst with voters at the margins.

There is, however, no question that Perry has been punched in the nose by his own party. His endorsed candidate was soundly rejected by a ten percent margin with more than a million voters turning out in July Texas heat. There had seemed to be no more room for the Texas GOP to move further to the right but there was apparently some space out on the edge of the cracker. Cruz may have intellect but he is using it to push conspiracy theories about a UN takeover of private property in America and eliminate paved roads and golf courses. (Seriously.) He is a dramatic Islamophobe and believes Sharia law is a problem in America.

It is hard for rational people to think that there is a large movement toward the extremes in American democracy but Cruz has become, overnight, a national icon for the Tea Party. Everyone who voted to reject "politics as usual" has gotten what they deserved: politics as unusual.

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