Just a few hours ago, Ted Cruz, in a result that would have been a shock to everyone almost a year ago, won the Republican runoff for Texas's open Senate seat by a smashing 58-42 margin of Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. While we can still hold out hope that Democratic nominee Paul Sadler will stop Cruz in November, Sadler is an underfunded candidate who has gotten little traction thus far. So, for all intents and purposes, Ted Cruz was elected to the United States Senate tonight.
This result will be sliced and diced millions of ways, but there are a few simple takeaways from this result.
The Koch brothers can nominate whomever they want.
Now, this might not have been true in the Presidential primary. Too many people pay too much attention to that nominating process for the Kochs to dominate it completely, and in any case, in a Presidential primary electability is a serious issue. Conservative billionaires in that case know that they cannot nominate just anyone and have them be elected President.
But, in a Senate primary, in what is widely assumed to be a "safe" state for Republicans (how long that will last, no one knows), the Kochs and their cronies can throw their weight around and exercise almost complete control over the nominating process.
And that's the case even in a big state like Texas. David Dewhurst, a multimillionaire who could throw a lot of his own money into the race, was thought to have a big financial advantage, but outside groups threw a whole lot of money Cruz's way. A year ago, Cruz was a complete unknown to most Texans, polling in the single digits in early polls. But then, Cruz became the chosen candidate of the Tea Party. Grassroots conservative bloggers -- taking their marching orders from the people with the money -- latched onto Cruz as part of the nebulous "conservative movement," lashing scathing criticisms of Dewhurst, a man who by almost any standard is a very conservative politician. Outside groups launched scathing ads, tarring Dewhurst as a "moderate" while portraying Cruz as a "true conservative."
So what was Dewhurst's cardinal sin? It wasn't that Dewhurst was actually a moderate. Dewhurst had spent the last decade effectively functioning as Rick Perry's right-hand man in the state Senate, which has hardly been a "moderate" body in that time period. Of course, the Texas state Senate is a body in which, by tradition, you need a two-thirds majority to get anything done, so obviously Dewhurst was going to have to work with some moderate Republicans (and even some Democrats) to get any legislation passed. Still, though, when Dewhurst has presided over a body that has almost never voted to raise taxes or increase spending on, well, anything, you can't really say his Tea Party credentials aren't in order.
No, Dewhurst's real sin is that, had he been elected, he wouldn't be indebted in any way to the Koch brothers and the other shadowy millionaires and billionaires behind the Tea Party movement. Dewhurst, prior to his run for the Senate, was well-known and reasonably popular among Republicans in the state, allowing him to raise large sums of money. And, since Dewhurst has more money than God, he can afford to drop large sums from his own bank account. Furthermore, Dewhurst, at 67, might have been perfectly fine serving one term in the Senate and then calling it a career. Shorter: David Dewhurst answers to David Dewhurst (and, to a lesser extent, the voters of Texas... some of them, anyway.) Yeah, he's a conservative, but he's not a conservative. Cruz's outside backers supported him against Dewhurst because they knew that Dewhurst could not be trusted -- because he doesn't need their help.
But why Cruz, and not one of the other candidates? That's a more difficult question. Also running against Dewhurst in the initial primary were two candidates who started out far better known than Cruz. But Tom Leppert had a prior record as mayor of Dallas that indicated he could not be trusted, and Craig James would have had some difficult -- even in Texas -- winning a general election.
But the Koch brothers throwing their weight around isn't the only thing that we can take away.
No Republican with any sort of record in office is safe.
You've probably noticed a common theme among Teabaggers who have won Republican primaries around the country.
Most of them have never actually held an elective office. Or, if they have, it was one in which they didn't have any sort of taxing and spending power.
The common theme among Republican officeholders who have been Teabagged to death is simple: at one point in their career, or possibly a few, they have cast a vote in favor of raising taxes and/or increasing spending. After all, it's only been recently that large segments of the Republican base have actually come out against having a government that functions in any meaningful way, so legislators have had to cast votes to make government work. The ideological purity test now is so severe that no Republican who actually holds office can pass it. Did a bill come across your desk that would have made it easier to purchase a gun... while also raising spending in some way? Vote against that bill, and you're against the Second Amendment. Vote for that bill, and you're a dirty Big Government Liberal.
These are the actual bills that sitting legislators have to vote yea or nay on, and in many cases there's no way to cast a vote on a bill AND pass the ideological purity test. If you cast a vote on the bill, either way, you are deemed ideologically impure. That's why political neophytes like Cruz are at such an advantage in Republican primaries these days -- and why current and former elected officials are at a disadvantage. Cruz can talk all day about how he supports Second Amendment rights, how he supports the original text of the Constitution, and how he wants to shrink the size of the government and cut taxes -- and nobody can say he doesn't, because he has no voting record to show otherwise.
But at some point, assuming Ted Cruz does in fact become a Senator, he will have to cast a vote on a piece of legislation. And at some point -- probably at a few points, if Democrats are in control and are particularly smart about this -- Cruz will have to cast a vote on a bill in which there is no correct answer on the ideological purity test. And if the Tea Party is still ascendant in 2018, some other candidate will bring up that vote as proof that Ted Cruz is not a True Conservative.
The Texas Republican Party has gone completely off the rails.
Oh, sure, we had a few early warning shots. The state GOP tried to stick a plank in the party platform calling for an end to the teaching of critical thinking skills in our public schools. In a state that is now majority-minority, the state's Republican Attorney General decided that launching a challenge to the Voting Rights Act was a good idea. Oh yeah, and there was that whole transvaginal ultrasound bill.
By the way, in addition to David Dewhurst, state Rep. Sid Miller also went down in flames last night. Who's Sid Miller? Why, he was the man who sponsored that transvaginal ultrasound bill. You might think that Sid Miller lost reelection because some moderate Republicans decided that the transvaginal ultrasound bill was an extremely bad idea, and while there might have been some of those, the man who defeated Sid Miller, a doctor named J.D. Sheffield, ran a campaign portraying Miller as being insufficiently conservative.
Let that sink into your head for a minute. A man who pushed through to passage a bill calling for any woman seeking an abortion in Texas to have a transvaginal ultrasound performed on her was deemed to be not extreme enough.
This result about sums up what the Republican Party of Texas has become: a party in which no person, no matter how extreme, can meet the Official Ideological Purity Standard of the Texas Republican Party. It is a party which has gone nearly two decades without a single loss in a statewide race, and which in the last decade or so hasn't faced a statewide race in which the result was even in doubt.
This factor, I think, is what the naysayers who don't think that Texas can become a swing state in the near future are missing. While it's true that demographic changes, taken by themselves, will not be enough to turn Texas purple for another decade or more, that assumes that the present Republican majority will remain completely intact. There have already been warning shots fired: in 2010, facing an electorate that was whiter and more conservative than 2008, Rick Perry was only able to pull the same percentage as John McCain. Perry held down the fort among self-described conservatives and Republicans, but tailed off a bit among everyone else.
And since 2010, the Republican Party of Texas has become even more extreme. Also since 2010, it's become clear that the extremism in the party isn't just limited to the Governor. (Perry badly underperformed other statewide Republican candidates in 2010.) While the conservatives aren't going anywhere, the Republican Party may start to bleed support from moderates, many of whom have voted Republican in the past, as it becomes clear that they have no place in the party. Remember -- this is a party in which "moderate" has become a dirty word. David Dewhurst wasn't smeared as a liberal -- he was smeared as a moderate. (The "liberal" tag was saved for primary loser Tom Leppert.)
Cruz may yet win in 2012, as Paul Sadler is an unknown candidate who doesn't have enough money to make this a race. But you can be certain that, in two or four years, Republicans will have a battle on their hands. According to a Republican consultant, "If Ted Cruz wins the Senate race, Texas will be a purple state in four years."
Let's see if THAT one comes true.