Ted Cruz's talkathon on the U.S. Senate floor had no hope of legislative success and boiled down to largely political performance art. But in Texas, the combative style his 21-hour speech demonstrated could be transformative.
Ted Cruz’s talkathon on the U.S. Senate floor had no hope of legislative success and boiled down to largely political performance art. But in Texas, the combative style his 21-hour speech demonstrated could be transformative.
The all-night self-emulation is energizing the grass-roots conservatives that already helped Cruz rise from electoral longshot to national star, and may prove a boon for other tea party-backed candidates waiting to follow in his footsteps.
While no one is expecting an army of Cruz clones to emerge, he may be a model for a certain type of confrontational conservatism back home. And the implications will stretch far beyond its own borders since Texas is the nation’s richest GOP donor state and repeatedly has been a cradle for Republican presidential candidates – perhaps even Cruz himself in 2016.
“You can feel the Cruz effect all over the state,” said Konni Burton, a Fort Worth tea party Republican who is running for a Texas Senate seat.
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Burton hopes to replace Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis, who became an overnight national sensation in her own right by leading a nearly 13-hour filibuster in the Texas Legislature this summer that temporarily blocked passage of strict new abortion limits statewide.
Cruz had hoped to defund the White House-backed health care law or shutdown the government trying but knew before he started his marathon speech that he was going to fail. But Burton said, “the politics of standing pat” has mainstream Texas Republicans looking over their shoulders and could make compromise a dirty word in the Legislature.
“At town halls, at any event, his name gets mentioned and people just go crazy,” Burton said of Cruz. “There are legislators there too and they’re running and they hear it. They can’t ignore what’s going on.”
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who is running for lieutenant governor and the chance to oversee the state Senate, countered that he doesn’t expect the politics of obstructionism to reign in response to Cruz’s quasi-filibuster.
“If you are pro-small government it doesn’t mean you can’t get done what government still needs to do,” Patterson said. “Standing your ground and having principles and getting things done are not mutually exclusive.”
Texas Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak said “everyone’s trying to be the next Cruz, but that was a moment in time” that won’t be repeated.
Cruz upset Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst – the choice of Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Republican mainstream – in last summer’s U.S. Senate primary by running hard to the right and enthralling grassroots activists. But he also benefited greatly from a crowded Republican field during the first round of voting and a court battle over redistricting that pushed his runoff election with Dewhurst into the dog days of summer – when turnout was low and dominated by tea party die-hards.
A Princeton- and Harvard-trained attorney, Cruz also has a fiery stage presence that’s tough to emulate. And his campaign got millions from national conservative organizations such as the Club For Growth and logistical support from FreedomWorks. Neither group has yet to endorse major candidates for next year’s Texas Republican primaries.
Meanwhile, Katrina Pierson, a well-known tea party activist with strong ties to Cruz, is challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions. She said Cruz’s effort will “have a ripple effect in Texas but really around the country.”
Mackowiak said a key reason there hasn’t yet been a second-coming of Cruz in Texas is because the differences between mainstream and tea party Republicans are not as pronounced as in other states. But he also said everyone watched – and will learn from – Cruz’s crusade.
“It solidifies Cruz as the leader of the Republican Party in Texas,” Mackowiak said.
It also will make Cruz’s appearances at state fundraisers – and his coming possible endorsements in key Texas races – all the more coveted.
Wesley Lloyd, president of McLennan County Republican Club, spent months working to schedule Ted Cruz for an August benefit in Waco that raised nearly $32,000 for the victims of a massive fertilizer plant explosion in the nearby town of West.
“He’s got the rock star thing going,” said Lloyd, whose group had an easier time booking top statewide officeholders and even rising Republican star George P. Bush, who is has joined the family business of politics by running for land commissioner.
Still, Amy Spiess, grassroots coordinator for the Republican Women of Kerr County, west of San Antonio, said what happened in the Senate wasn’t just about Cruz.
“Senator Cruz is a patriot for doing what he’s doing,” Spiess said. “More people need to realize they can be a patriot too, all over Texas and everywhere else.”