After the October shutdown that 1) gutted the popularity of his party and 2) he played a huge role in initiating, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas pledged not to work with a group pushing to defeat incumbent Republican senators. Now that the party's on the mend, Cruz has found a gray area in that commitment: working with another group trying to put his colleagues out of work.
One of the surest indicators that the shutdown is not the political problem it once was is revealed in the rebounding popularity of House Speaker John Boehner. According to Gallup, Boehner's popularity is back to pre-shutdown levels. "2014 could be a turning of the page," the polling firm says about Boehner. "His favorability has now edged back up to where it was in April of last year" — though, as you can see in the graph at right, the Speaker's unfavorability hasn't gone down that much. During the shutdown, Boehner's party saw an all-time record low in its popularity, but that started to tick back up by the end of the year.
During the shutdown, Cruz became a pariah among his colleagues in part because he helped pushed the party into the shutdown and in part because he'd been working with the Senate Conservatives Fund, an outside group that was backing primary challengers to top Republicans. At the end of October — a truly brutal political month for Cruz — he told the Senate's Republican leadership that he would no longer work with the group. It was a significant declaration, given the Tea-Party-versus-establishment war that the shutdown exposed.
That was then. Politico reported on Wednesday that Cruz is now working with the Madison Project, a conservative group that is backing many of the same challengers to Senate incumbents as the Senate Conservatives Fund. Politico quotes from the fundraising letter Cruz signed:
“Our nation desperately needs more strong conservative fighters in the Senate … not more moderate, career politicians who will sacrifice principle and compromise with Democrats at every turn,” Cruz writes in the fundraising solicitation. “In short, it’s time to elect some conservatives who won’t run from a fight!”
It's been a whirlwind month for Cruz, who first seemed to be making friends with his colleagues, though it seemed likely that was just his colleagues trying to tap into Cruz's still-potent popularity with the far right. Then the House passed an increase to the debt limit, and Cruz forced his colleagues to take an unpopular vote on the issue by filibustering it when it came to the Senate. And then he called his colleagues' votes "trickery" in an interview with CNN.
In other words, Cruz now working with conservative groups to once again try and get his peers ousted from Capitol Hill is a reversion to form, not a new development. In fact, Cruz's spokeswoman said that the pitch was "based on a previous fundraising agreement last year."
But now that his party doesn't have the cloud of the shutdown debacle hanging over it (or, at least, now that some sun has perhaps broken through), Cruz is ready to start tossing bombs again. Expect it to last at least through the primaries.