The people of Texas have sent their very own Cruz missile to the Senate, set to destroy any remaining vestiges of moderate Republicanism and just about certain to alienate Republican-leaning independents everywhere.
What a gift to my side! Except, although I am a lifelong Democrat, I am more importantly an American who believes it is vitally important that we have two strong, viable political parties. So my advice to my Republican friends (and I have many) is heartfelt. I realize what I suggest is a long-shot, but if I were in your shoes I would at least make the effort.
Sit the seven-week old senator down with the congressional leaders in your party. Explain that throwing red meat to his tea party base in Texas also feeds and strengthens the nationwide forces that reelected President Obama. If he spends the next few months doing what he has done since January 3, he will be the proverbial gift that keeps on giving for Democrats into the 2014 mid-term congressional elections. Jim Messina is happily taking notes.
You have been arguing since November about whether your party has a policy or a message problem. The polls seem to put you on the wrong side of a lot of issues, so you can't escape taking a hard look at some policy positions. But let me suggest that Senator Cruz is just the latest, albeit loudest, example of something else. Like too many other Republican members of Congress, he is tone-deaf.
We read that you have been conducting "messaging" seminars for prospective Republican candidates around the country, which seem mainly to consist of listing subjects to avoid when campaigning. Don't pin your hopes on them. Instead, face the reality that, day after day, Senator Cruz and too many others in your party are out there on television and other media becoming the poster children for partisan bickering.
Sure, Democrats are partisan and we bicker too. But the latest polls are significant. First, they indicate that the number one problem the electorate points to in Washington is not lack of action on the deficit or jobs, but -- yes -- partisan bickering in Congress, which Americans believe is standing in the way of job creation and deficit reduction. And they overwhelmingly think that Republicans are guiltier than Democrats. The approve/disapprove numbers are dismal for both parties, but still:
Congressional Democrats 33 percent/59 percent
Congressional Republicans 19 percent/72 percent
Take Congress out of it, and the numbers are not much better for the GOP. Favorable/Unfavorable:
Democratic Party: 47 percent/45 percent
Republican Party 31 percent/60 percent
I have been in politics for over 40 years, and I have never seen numbers like these. Sure, the outrageous statements by Republican Senate candidates like Mourdock and Akin were a problem, but an even bigger problem has been the over-the-top partisanship in recent years from Republican members of Congress like Eric Cantor, Jim DeMint, Rand Paul, and Darrell Issa. Americans have finally figured out that if President Obama came out in support of apple pie, your guys would find a way to denounce him for it.
Back to Ted Cruz. Last week, newspapers around the country ran a picture of him in a closing elevator. You could not escape the self-satisfied expression on his face. He was returning from a hearing in which he had demanded proof that Secretary of Defense-nominee Chuck Hagel had never taken money from North Korea. He had no documentation to back up his demand. Even "Benghazi all the time" Senators McCain and Graham were nonplussed. They will also vote against confirming Hagel, but both understood the public relations disaster of a completely unjustified personal attack on a war hero and former Republican Senator.
Many of us (including some Republican friends who could not say so publicly) hoped the Senate might regain at least some of its collegiality when Jim DeMint retired. DeMint's very conservative replacement, Congressman Tim Scott, has so far adhered to the tradition that a new Senator mainly listens for a while, until he or she figures out how the place operates -- a good strategy when you start at any new organization. But Ted Cruz is DeMint on steroids. He reminds me of that loudmouthed freshman in college who alienated everyone with continuous monologues on his high school victories.
If he wants to retire the trophy for senators who got off to a terrible start, Ted Cruz is already 90 percent there. I'll take the gift for my party, but it's a sad spectacle for the Senate and the country.