Still Dangerous?

As I’ve noted in a series of posts, after speaking to numerous people who’ve been associated with Ted Cruz over the last quarter century, I’ve been struck by how unanimous the opinion of him as been at basically every step. But I did get this note from one close observer which, while not terribly different from the others, points to how powerful a political force Cruz could still be.

From TPM Reader XX

You’re probably getting a lot of feedback about Cruz about now. He wasn’t a shrinking violet in college.

I knew Cruz through the college debate circuit. He was a top-flight debater.

Arrogant? Sure. I always chalked it up to deep confidence, but being in the law for as long as he has would probably coagulate that into arrogance.

Jerk? Tougher call. My impression from back then was that Ted was an in-group/out-group guy. He could come across as a jerk (or, more to the point, condescending) to people who were outside of his group, but could be kind and even inspirational for people within it. And he did reach outside of his circle as well–he wasn’t a Heather, not all the time.

Tea-Party Shallow? No. No no no. This is the impression I am seeing in some of the coverage of him, and I can’t agree with it. “Arrogant jerk” is sometimes taken to foreclose being wicked smart–that would be a mistake here.

Whatever he is, Cruz is not one of the early Bond villains who explains his whole plan just in time for Bond to stop it. He is more like the Bond-reboot villains, who never cop to their plans (which are always bigger than imagined once they are discovered), and who make Bond hurt in order to succeed.

There is a reason Cornyn made him the RSCC outreach to the Tea Party: he can translate Establishmentese into Teapartian and vice-versa. He stands a non-zero chance of bringing the Tea Party within the Republican Establishment as a real force, without diluting the intensity of his convictions. He’ll sand a few of the rough edges off of the Akins, but he will also teach them how to say the same thing in a way that appeals to more voters. (He didn’t just debate, he coached too.) Imagine how November 2012 would have turned out if Akin and Mourdock were exactly the same people, but knew how to hold their tongues properly.

My money is that Cruz starts poking around New Hampshire in two years, Iowa shortly after that. He’ll make noise in the Senate for a year or two, but he will also do a couple of significant things (“See? Look what I did while you were worrying about how rude I was.”). He’ll work behind the scenes (e.g., RSCC, PACs) while distracting people with the image of the Angry Conservative.

Then he appears in 2016, puts the noise behind him, and becomes a leader for a party that badly needs one, running against a party trying to replace their inspirational leader.

Which, when you think about it, is more or less where Barack Obama was in 2006-07.

[Disclosure: I went to college with Cruz, one year ahead of him. I had no recollection of him until people from Princeton and Harvard Law School began reaching out to me to discuss their impressions of him.]