Meet Democrats’ Newest Republican Crush: Ted Cruz?!?!

Starting around the time he launched a bogus attack on then-Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, Democrats have loved to hate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

They made sure as many as people as possible saw him condescend to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), as she tried to advance an assault weapons ban in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre. When he launched a failed filibuster of more modest gun legislation the public relations backlash (nurtured by Democrats) made him persona non grata with some members of his own party.

Among Democrats, he is one of the most widely cited opponents of immigration reform.

And this week no less a powerbroker than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called Cruz a “schoolyard bully” and the “very junior senator from Texas,” after Cruz blocked further formal budget negotiations absent a pre-emptive Democratic surrender.

Yup, Democrats can’t stand Ted Cruz. Except that they also kind of love him.Their distaste for his antics and his radical ideology is undoubtedly genuine. But Democrats are also thrilled that someone with those — should we call them qualities? — has emerged after the rout in 2012 as a Republican powerbroker in his own right, in a party whose leadership is too weak and timid to control him. And, the greater his stature in the party, the more harm they believe he’ll do to the GOP nationwide, whether or not he runs for president in 2016.

“I think the buzz around Sen. Cruz, both on the Senate floor and over the airwaves, represents a sincere effort on the part of Democrats to highlight the true, new face of the GOP — or at least its conservative wing (which is pretty much the whole bird these days),” Democratic strategist Paul Begala told TPM by email. “Just as Joe McCarthy embodied the paranoid extreme right in the 50s, Ted Cruz does so today. The difference is, in the 1950s mainstream Republicans like Pres. Eisenhower and Sen. Prescott Bush stood up to McCarthy, today’s Republicans (with the notable and admirable exception of John McCain) are so cowed by Cruz you can almost hear them moo. And so it falls to Democrats to shine a light on him.”

The dynamic resembles Democratic efforts to increase the stature of unelectable GOP candidates from Sharron Angle to Christine O’Donnell to Mitt Romney’s many would-be rivals. In 2011, Nancy Pelosi roiled the Republican presidential primary when she told TPM, “I like Barney Frank’s quote the best, where he said ‘I never thought I’d live such a good life that I would see Newt Gingrich be the nominee of the Republican Party,'” and alluded to a rich field of material Democrats would use against him.

Nobody was happier with her comments than Gingrich himself.

Cruz and top Democrats enjoy a similar symbiosis. When Reid insults him, and when he gets under Feinstein’s skin, that helps him with the GOP base. When Democratic strategist James Carville goes on national television to acknowledge Cruz’s talents and kinda-sorta suggest Democrats would be scared to run against him, we recognize that as tried-and-true but harmless ratfucking, to use the technical term. Cruz sees it as an opportunity to tout his conservative bona fides.

Everyone wins — except the rest of the GOP.

“It is fair to say that there’s a general sense that the more Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are the face of the Republican Party, the worse it is for the Republican brand and the better it is for Democrats,” said a senior Democratic Senate aide. “I think most [Republicans] get it, but I don’t think there’s anything they can do about it without risking a huge backlash given how beloved those guys are by the base. No one is stepping up to say, we Republicans need to come to our senses and do the right thing to preserve our brand. Everybody is just trying to survive their own race, and hoping some savior will come along and rebrand their party. Enter Eric Cantor … aaaand, exit Eric Cantor.”

Reached for comment for this story, a Cruz spokesperson declined to comment, except to say, “The senator’s focused on his work for Texans in the Senate.”