Ted Cruz’s victory Tuesday in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Texas could mean it’s no longer correct to consider moderate Republicans an endangered species. Like the passenger pigeon, maybe they no longer exist.
An earlier sign of that development was the sight of Mitt Romney, the once unabashedly moderate governor of a liberal state, tacking far right to win the GOP nomination for president. He’s leaned so far in that direction that it would take a chiropractor to straighten his back.
Of course, Sen. John McCain did the same thing in 2008, but Arizona isn’t Massachusetts. Now that McCain isn’t running for president, he’s again more maverick than predictable. Look at his defense of State Department official Huma Abedin, who was unjustifiably accused of having family ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
But Cruz’s winning a contest in which two tea-party darlings duked it out to take retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s seat takes matters to another level. Since no Democrat has won a statewide election in Texas since 1994, Cruz will likely beat Paul Sadler in the fall. In other words, the prospects for a less partisan Congress have gotten worse.
That would have also been the case had Cruz been defeated. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst lost because Cruz successfully pinned the moderate label on him. He did that even though Dewhurst was the scion of Gov. Rick Perry, who not too many months ago seemed headed to the White House on a steam engine fueled with tea.
Abby Rapoport, who writes for the American Prospect, says running for president actually hurt Perry back home in Texas. His absence allowed Cruz to cozy up to the same folks who helped propel Perry to national prominence. In the end, even Sarah Palin was helping to raise money for the true “tea-party candidate.” She was referring to Cruz.
His victory, says Rapoport (who used to cover politics for the Texas Observer), also may signal the demise of Perry as a political force. Not only didn’t he win his bid for the presidential nomination, but his endorsement of Dewhurst was a dud. The Texas tea party turned its back on Perry, along with Dewhurst, and he has nowhere else to turn.
The rest of America should take notice because the Texas Senate election illustrates what appears to be happening with the Republican Party nationally as well. Internal struggles increasingly seem to be between equally conservative factions who use the words moderate and centrist as expletives. Compromise is nowhere in their vocabulary.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. People remember when the Democratic Party was just as dominated by the left. In fact, Republicans say it still is, as evidenced by party-line votes. But if Democrats’ rhetoric isn’t very different, the consequences are. It was sad to watch House Speaker John Boehner retreat from working across the aisle with Democrats on the budget after being taken to the woodshed.
Such stringency in either party isn’t what America needs as it tries to get over two wars and right its economy following a crippling recession. But if Texas is the bellwether it appears to be, more stringency is in the cards.