Lost in all the back and forth of the Republican presidential primary is a profound question for the conservative movement: “Whither Ted Cruz?” Let us not overlook a conservative powerhouse, with a proven track record of organizing actual voters across a wide swath of states, expertise at small-dollar fundraising, and the discipline to endure months of heckling by Donald Troll and his oafish minions.
Is no one else excited to see the next chapter for Cruz? If he so chooses, Cruz can be the conservative leader he was so often attacked for not being over the last few years. Now that he is no longer required to hedge his every position, craft every utterance for maximum flexibility, and throw inconvenient political groups under the bus, Cruz can focus on actually legislating and moving the American political center rightward.
As I argued last year (in an unheeded essay urging he stay put in the Senate):
Cruz could likely hold his seat in perpetuity while remaining a strong advocate for limited government. The powers of incumbency along with the dogged work ethic Cruz showed in his first election would make him a formidable candidate even in the worst of cycles. At age 44, Cruz could easily serve 30 years in the Senate before considering retirement. If Cruz focused on being a conservative foil to Senate institutions like Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vermont), class of ‘74, or Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia), the longest-serving senator in history, he could play an important role in the resurgence of liberty and a return to Constitutional government.
Cruz has not chosen that course—yet! But perhaps the lure of the White House was too much to resist, as it has been for many ambitious Americans before him.
A Good Senate Can Do a Lot
A wise friend, who happened to be an advisor to one of the senatorial Republican presidential candidates, told me that in his study of successful senators, the most impactful ones always had run for the presidency. He cited Barry Goldwater, Robert Taft, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, etc. Perhaps the most useful comparison for Cruz, though, is Ted Kennedy.
As should be expected in our instant-gratification culture, Cruz ran for president as soon as possible, not after serving 16 years in the upper chamber like Kennedy. But that doesn’t mean Cruz can’t have a long Senate career full of conservative wins. After his loss to Trump, Cruz can now dedicate himself to undoing the nearly 30 years of work Kennedy put in to expanding government and eroding freedom following the latter’s defeat to Jimmy Carter.
“What use is the Senate?” you may ask. In the age of celebrity residents in the White House, it is certainly less glamorous. But just look at the current Senate minority to see how an organized political coalition can still drive the national conversation and alter policy. On a range of issues, from undermining religious liberty at colleges, to moving the Overton window on public funding of abortion, or increasing spending no matter what, Harry Reid’s zombie majority still runs the show.
Imagine Mike Lee, the once and future Senate leadership candidate, eventually leads a Republican majority and is supported by Rand Paul zinging a flat-footed Minority Leader Amy Klobuchar on MSNBC while Cruz activates his grassroots army. All of a sudden, freedom stands a chance.
The future of the Republicans in Congress can be conservative. It need not be full of sell-out ring-kissers, nor serve fork-tongued weasels on K Street. Instead, conservatives can take over the Republican majorities and keep up the fight against bigger government and a complete crony takeover under Hillary Clinton.
They should probably be more realistic about what they can achieve, and more clear about the principles they are for, not just which Obama/Clinton policies they oppose, but those are tactical and messaging changes a smart and mature Tea Party faction can make.
Cruz can lead by example and show that Congress is important. The Senate should once again be where intelligent, principled statesmen prefer to serve their country. The presidency is an ego trip, and now that his vacation from Capitol Hill is over, let’s hope Cruz settles in for the long haul.