Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas entered October a king after his pseudofilibuster in September skyrocketed him into the upper stratosphere of Republican celebrity. But he's finishing the month with his poll numbers sinking, his strident outsider status at risk, and his father on tape insulting the president.
The recording of Cruz's father is certainly the most embarrassing problem the senator faces, though it's not clear how much political damage it will inflict. Obtained by Mother Jones and recorded in April, it shows Rafael Cruz addressing a Tea Party group in Texas. At the 19:28 mark:
"So I'll tell you. We have our work cut out for us. We need to send Barack Obama back to Chicago [inaudible] and back to Kenya."
That was Cruz's applause line (and, in that goal, it was successful). But the run up to that comment included a litany of extreme-right argumentation: for example, depicting sustainable development and the Law of the Sea Treaty as demonstrations of the grasping hand of the United Nations. Obama "was clear from what he was saying [during the 2008 campaign] that he was an outright Marxist," Cruz says of the president at about the 9:30 mark.
As Mother Jones notes, Rafael Cruz plays an outsized role in his son's political story. During his 21-hour Senat floor speech, the younger Cruz rehashed his regular stump about his father's success in escaping Cuba and moving the family to Canada. In a September profile of Cruz in GQ, Rafael occupies a full page. "Cruz talks about his father so much," the magazine wrote, "that as his political star has risen, so has Rafael's. At the age of 74, the elder Cruz is now a Tea Party celebrity."
But over the long term, Cruz will likely not bear the sins of his father, as he continues to build his own political record. As we've noted repeatedly over the course of the month, Cruz's popularity with non-Republican voters has dropped dramatically — in part thanks to people who'd never heard of him suddenly becoming familiar with the conservative senator's tactics. Speaking to Rachel Maddow Wednesday night on MSNBC, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — who is obviously biased — suggested that Cruz had become toxic to the Republican identity, as The Hill reports.
"If I didn`t care so much about our country, I would hope [Cruz] will get the Republican nomination for president, because that would be the end of the Republican Party,” Reid said. … "The Republican Party is staggering right now.”
And it's staggering almost entirely because of Cruz's anti-Obamacare crusade, which shut down the government and led to record low poll numbers for the party.
The one group that sees Cruz in a better light at the end of the month is Tea Party Republicans, who appreciate Cruz's willingness to stand up to the party's establishment. But even that, his position as a say-what-I-want Tea Partier beholden to no one, is in jeopardy. On Wednesday, Politico reported that Cruz was backing off his support for the Senate Conservatives Fund, a rogue PAC started by Heritage Foundation head and former Sen. Jim DeMint to challenge insufficiently conservative Republican senators. Cruz's support for the group saw included appearances in ads; in the speech embedded above, Rafael Cruz urges the audience to support the group.
No longer. Politico reports on a lunch meeting of the Senate Republicans.
According to one source familiar with the meeting in the Senate’s Mansfield Room, Cruz noted that Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky wouldn’t fundraise for the group and promised that his image would be removed from its materials. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Cruz that Paul took such an action six months ago, but he thanked the Texas conservative for doing so. Other GOP senators also thanked Cruz, sources say.
This is very different from the height of the shutdown, when a similar luncheon included several senators challenging Cruz for his adamant push for keeping the government closed.
Cruz probably doesn't care if his polling drops among Republicans as long as the vocal, furious Tea Party base stands by his side. That's his ticket to the nomination that Reid secretly wishes for. But if he falls into line with his Republican peers on Capitol Hill — the path that lured Florida's Marco Rubio out of the conservative spotlight — he risks angering the only base he has left.