For national Republicans, Sen Ted Cruz is a persistent migraine. In an effort to temper his cocksure and abrasive manner, the GOP leadership offered him the Vice Chairmanship of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Though laudable in intent, they should have known better.
From the moment he took his seat, Cruz became the bane of the committee, the brat who acted out because he wasn’t dictator-in-chief. Cruz does not play well with others and wants his own way in everything.
Earlier this year, he officially took a hiatus from the committee. It was a protest move; he was stridently objecting to the NRSC’s involvement in helping incumbents win against Tea Party challengers, an objective which was the polar opposite to his own, and accused the GOP leadership of lying to him:
When I signed on as Vice Chair of the NRSC it was based upon an explicit commitment from leadership that the NRSC was going to stay out of primaries. Had they not made that commitment I would not have taken on that role.No-one has denied that this commitment was made but then, no-one has confirmed it either.
I participated in the NRSC early on as long as they honored that commitment, and when the decision was made for them to do otherwise I stopped participating because I think Washington insiders are notoriously poor at picking winners and losers in primaries.That’s rich coming from Cruz whose own record in picking primary winners is no better than 50-50. He endorsed a winner in Ben Sasse, a Tea Party candidate from Nebraska, and a loser in TW Shannon, Tea Party candidate for Oklahoma. While he hasn’t endorsed against incumbents, he has refused to support colleagues including former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, who’d backed Cruz in his own 2012 primary. This defiance has seriously undermined the NRSC and exacerbated an already fractured relationship with establishment GOP.
To top it off, Cruz predictably, pointedly and publicly sided with McDaniel in the Mississippi melee, castigating the NRSC in the process:
It was unfortunate to see the DC political machine spending substantial money to urge 30,000 to 40,000 Democrats to vote in a Republican primary and they did not do so in an effort to grow the party, to attract their support substantively on ideas. Rather the ads that were run made false racial charges and made no effort to secure those votes in the general election. Indeed the Mississippi primary is Exhibit A for why the NRSC should stay out of primaries.
The Hill sought reactions from the establishment Republicans. To say they’re not happy is an understatement. Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who’d survived his own close primary from a Tea Party challenger, responded with:
I don’t know how you grow the vote among minorities if you don’t seek their vote. If any Republican, particularly from the Deep South, can win re-election with the help of African-Americans, that is music to my ears. I hope to grow the vote among African-Americans in the general election. To say that’s a bad thing is really, I think, ill-advised.The last sentence is very telling, stopping just short of calling Cruz a racist, a term the GOP has been at great pains to avoid or deny. In contrast, Marco Rubio (R-Florida) stuck to safe clichés:
It’s important to rally now around the winner. It’s time to move forward.Cochran’s strategist, Henry Barbour, was more forthright:
Sen Cruz is just wrong about it — that’s not what happened in Mississippi. The reality is Sen Cochran simply got more votes than Chris McDaniel in the Republican primary. There’s a winner and there’s a loser and McDaniel lost. We think it’s healthy to grow the party, we think it’s healthy to ask white and black to vote Republican.GOP strategist Ron Bonjean was brief and to the point:
Senator Cruz has every right to express himself but does it make any sense to have a Vice Chairman of the NRSC dispute the certification of the Mississippi Senate election in favor of a sitting Republican incumbent?No, it doesn’t. What’s more, Cruz is closely allied with the Senate Conservatives Fund which views him as a champion of the Tea Party cause. While the establishment view the SCR as yet another frequent irritant, their alliance with Vice Chair Cruz is particularly vexatious for the NRSC. The Senate Conservatives Fund not only sent $70,000 to a legal fund set up by McDaniel (with the promise of at least $20,000 more in the near future), they also organized for conservatives to sign a pledge to defund the NRSC.
Such a full frontal attack so close to a general election has angered the establishment who are furiously trying to downplay the rift. They clearly want Cruz to resign from the NRSC but the Vice Chairman, though in name only at this point, is obstinate in his refusal, claiming he shares “the ultimate goal of electing Republicans in general elections in November”. When pressed on the extent of his potential involvement, The Hill reported:
... he refused to say what, if any, work he’ll do to help the NRSC with fundraising or turnout once the primaries conclude this summer.An unnamed national Republican added:
He’s a VINO, he’s a Vice Chairman in name only. I’m not sure what the alternative is. Should we strip him of his Vice Chairmanship that he doesn’t actually do anything with?Meanwhile, Sen Thad Cochran is not helping his own cause. In a separate article, The Hill described Cochran’s disorientation when attempting to make his way to the Senate Republicans' weekly luncheon last Tuesday.
Cochran, while talking with The Hill, made a few wrong turns before accidentally ending up at Senate Democrats' luncheon.
After exiting a Senate elevator on the wrong floor, Cochran and The Hill reboarded. He then found the right floor but turned away from the Senate GOP luncheon, a few yards from the elevator, to stroll in the opposite direction, arriving at the Democrats' weekly gathering a few hallways away.There he chatted amicably with Sen Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas) for a few minutes, seemingly unaware of where he was until someone in the room asked him if he intended joining the Democrats for lunch. Cochran’s replied, "His father and I were elected to Congress and then to the Senate". He was reminiscing about old times; Sen David Pryor retired more than 17 years ago.
The Hill article continues:
The Mississippi Republican then paused for a second, fumbling to read some papers he was holding.Though Cochran’s staff dismissed it, it is disturbing in light of other memory lapse episodes. Reintroducing himself to a reporter who had interviewed him just minutes before. Commenting on Eric Cantor’s primary loss then seemingly unaware of the electoral upset or its significance the following day. No doubt McDaniel and supporters are collating every such incident.
"OK, so I've got to find out where ..." Cochran said before The Hill asked if he was looking for the GOP luncheon, which has been held every Tuesday in the same room for years. "Well, look, S-211. Let's see if I can do this. I've been here long enough — 30 years," he said with a grin.
Cruz, too, will be noting any perceived weaknesses in Cochran. One can easily believe that he’d just as readily claim victory should Cochran resign due to frail health as he would from a successful outcome in McDaniel’s court case. Cruz certainly isn’t known for subtlety or compassion.
While Cruz avers that he will return as Vice Chair to the NRSC after primary season, it’s impossible to believe anyone on the committee will be welcoming. By September 10, they may well decide that consorting with the enemy is enough to rescind his membership. So very close to the general election itself, the last thing they’ll need or want is this thorn in their side.