Rep. Steve Stockman declared his intention on Monday to challenge Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn in next year's Texas Republican primary, offering voters a choice between a staunchly conservative Republican who says extreme things and Steve Stockman, who is both of those things and much, much more. Stockman would have to work to supplant Texas' junior senator, Ted Cruz, for the most-extreme label. But he'd try.
If you're not familiar with Stockman, you may be familiar with his work. He's the guy who, earlier this year, made the Earth Day declaration that he loved the planet because "if you poke holes in it oil and gas come out." That was what put him on many people's radar, but it was neither the most odd nor the most aggressively conservative thing he's said or done. Mother Jones has an exhaustive list of his most recent 11 months in the House: bumper stickers suggesting babies be armed to prevent abortions, comparing Obama to Saddam Hussein, and so on. (His pre-Congress days, including hiding Valium in his underwear, are even more exotic.) And then there's the question of what Stockman did for a living prior to his election; finance reports refer only to something called "Presidential Trust Marketing."
This is Stockman's third year in the House. His first two were 1995 and 1996 when he was elected in the Gingrich wave and then was promptly voted out. Shortly before his loss, Texas Monthly dubbed him "Congressman Clueless." The reviews at the time were poor.
"A complete nut" was the way one political reporter described him. "Off the reservation," said another. "An embarrassment," according to one congressional aide. "Not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree," asserted a Democratic party operative.
In the wake of his announced bid for the Senate, a Republican consultant told The Atlantic's Molly Ball why he thought Cornyn — the Senate Minority Whip named the second-most conservative by National Journal — faced a primary. "Well, the honest answer is that he's not crazy."
The still roiling GOP civil war pits far-far-right Tea Party activists against the already-pretty-far-right party mainstream. With a Cornyn-Stockman fight, that split is more obvious than ever before: Stockman's "craziness" centers on things that the grassroots love. Here's how a statement at Stockman2014.com (a site apparently controlled by Stockman) describes the contrast between the two:
"You and I are in a foxhole fighting to save this constitutional Republic, but liberal John Cornyn is bayoneting us in the back," said Stockman. "Liberal John Cornyn betrayed Ted Cruz and worked with Harry Reid to fund Obamacare."
"Liberal John Cornyn wakes up every morning and works to make the Senate a more liberal place. That’s why I am running for the United States Senate. I have a 100% pro-gun, pro-life, conservative voting record in Congress," said Stockman.
The word "liberal" appears six times in that article. Cornyn is liberal because he "voted to fund Obamacare;" that is, he voted to end the shutdown. Even the staunchly conservative and insurgency-friendly Club for Growth passed on backing Stockman, considering Cornyn far enough to the right for their tastes.
That shutdown, of course, was the child of Texas' other senator. Running into the embrace of the far right after his January swearing-in, Ted Cruz toured the country with Heritage Action calling for the government to block any funding for the healthcare policy. "Don't blink" was his mantra, suggesting that it simply took steadfastness to impose that will on the country. This was proven wrong, but Cruz became a hero, seeing his popularity rise on the far-right and in Texas. He's now so popular that he has a coloring book in his honor.
That's a record that Stockman would be hard-pressed to match. In part, that's because Cruz was effective at corralling establishment organizations to support his campaign and, ultimately, the push for the shutdown. If Stockman won, Cruz would almost certainly maintain enough of an edge in rationality that he'd be (somewhat) more effective at pushing far-right policies.
Not that Stockman appears likely to win. As Politico reports, he starts at a massive fundraising disadvantage. And he walks into a different climate than Cruz saw last year. Cruz helped start the civil war that united the forces — like the Chamber of Commerce and Republican Party Senate campaign arm — that will now make Stockman's quixotic bid more challenging. Despite Cornyn's own questionable comments (see Ball's article), the establishment will be on his side.
If Stockman loses the primary, he'll again by a one-term-and-out representative. But his coworkers (if any) at Presidential Trust Marketing will no doubt be glad to have him back.