A word of advice to Republican 2014 candidates looking to hitch their wagons to Ted Cruz's star: You would be justified in treating his political assessments with skepticism.
Appearing on Fox News on Monday, Cruz argued that the shutdown — for which he toured the country and swayed his House colleagues — would end up doing Republicans more good than harm in the next election cycle. The Hill reports:
"You look at the past four elections, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012. Three of the last four, 06, 08 and 12 were disasters for Republicans," Cruz said Monday night on Fox News's The Kelly File.
"And they were years in which we just, we stayed quiet, we went along to get along, we didn't stand on principle. The only year that was good for Republicans was 2010 when we painted in bold colors, not in pale pastels. We stood for principle."
Let's assess this claim. There's no question that Republicans did well in 2010, picking up 63 seats in the wake of the election of Barack Obama two years earlier. But that was an off-year election, in which Republicans usually do much better. 2008 and 2012 were presidential elections, in which turn-out is generally higher and votes more Democratic. Both of those elections also saw an African-American presidential candidate at the top of the ticket, energizing black voters. In 2012, men went for Romney by a 7-point spread; in 2010, they voted Republican by 14 points. White voters were 72 percent of the vote in 2012, but 77 percent two years prior. The electorate in the off-year, as normal, was more conservative.
So what happened in 2006? Was it, as Cruz suggests, a lack of spine and too many Easter-colored Polo shirts? Here's The New York Times' assessment from November 2006, when Democrats picked up 31 seats: "The outcome of this election – and others in our recent history — was determined by the shifting sentiments of independents and moderates. It is no exaggeration to say that the views of the least ideological voters decided this election for the Democrats." While a number of moderate Republicans lost — largely in divided districts — the difference maker was independent voters. In part, that's because of two external factors: The deeply unpopular war in Iraq and the fundraising scandal focused on Jack Abramoff. A pollster notes: "41 percent of exit poll respondents cited corruption and ethics as extremely important." This wasn't weak-kneed Republican candidates; in fact, it was in part a response to the united conservatism of Republicans for the preceding six years.
As we've noted previously, Cruz's flexibility with reality in service to his political arguments is well established. His 21-hour speech from the Senate floor was a square dance spinning him from effective argument ("there are also two Americas right now between those of wealth and privilege and power and everybody else") to flat falsehood ("ObamaCare is the biggest job killer in this country"). That speech was meant to mollify Republicans furious that he picked a fight over Obamacare and then appeared ready to immediately concede.
What he was doing on Fox News last night was something similar: an attempt to avert any blame for Republicans who take a hit in the polls. In the only strongly contested race to coincide with the shutdown, the governor's race in Virginia, Cruz has already been blamed for negatively affecting the Republican candidate, Ken Cuccinelli. A poll conducted for Politico indicates that voters in that state are twice as likely to have a negative opinion of the senator as a positive one.
Which is why Democrats are already planning to attack their Republican opponents next year by tying them to Cruz. From Time:
“Die-hard Republicans will consider him their best surrogate, and we consider him our best surrogate too,” says Democratic National Committee spokesman Mike Czin. “Wherever he goes now, I think he’s a political liability for all Republicans.”
November 2014 is more than a year from now, and a lot — everything — can and will change. Cruz is a smart politician, and his message and efforts will play well in deeply conservative areas. And, of course, it's an off-year election, so Republicans are poised to do well anyway. But the idea that Cruz's strict adherence to the farthest right portion of the party is tactically good for other Republicans is questionable. Only Ted Cruz and Democratic strategists would be wise to encourage it unreservedly.