Paul Begala: Ted Cruz and Texas’s Tea Party Revolution
The Tea Party unceremoniously rejected the most powerful Republican in Texas. Paul Begala on how Ted Cruz’s Senate victory sends a message to the GOP establishment.
Back when Texas was a part of Mexico, the Mexicans made a fatal strategic error: they gave the Texans in the town of Gonzales a cannon to defend themselves against the Comanches. It wasn’t much, as cannons go, but it packed a much stronger wallop than the flintlocks and shotguns most men owned.
In time the obstreperous Texicans developed revolutionary ideas. So the Mexican Empire sought to reclaim its cannon. When Santa Ana’s troops showed up to repossess the weapon in 1835, they were greeted with the business end of the cannon and a defiant, handmade flag that said, “Come and Take It.”
It seems the Republican establishment of Texas could use a refresher course in Texas history, because once again revolutionaries have defied the ruling class—and not too politely. Tea Party activists have unceremoniously rejected the most powerful Republican in Texas, defeating Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and nominating a previously little-known lawyer, Ted Cruz, for the Senate.
Make no mistake, this is a revolution. Dewhurst has ruled Texas for nearly a decade, (the Lone Star State traditionally invests more real power in its lieutenant governor than its governor, which lately has been a good thing, as Texas has led the NCAA in underachieving governors). A former CIA officer and Air Force veteran, Dewhurst is a multimillionaire who swaggers on horseback. He is no mushy moderate, but an Obama-loathing, gubmint-hating, tax-cutting, gun-toting, education-cutting conservative. He was part of an earlier revolution that replaced the Democratic establishment of Ann Richards with an aggressive brand of conservative Republicanism. Dewhurst helped set an anti-government fire that has now consumed him.
Former Texas solicitor general Ted Cruz, center, is surrounded by supporters and media at a voting precinct in Houston, July 31, 2012. (Pat Sullivan / AP Photo)
The defeat must be bitter for Dewhurst, who showed real emotion in his concession speech. It is perhaps even more of a slap at Gov. Rick Perry, who endorsed Dewhurst and appeared in ads for him. Perry has flirted openly with secession—and now he’s not conservative enough for his own state’s Republicans.
Cruz is an unlikely revolutionary. The conservative website the Daily Caller accurately described him as “a Cuban, Ivy League Tea Partier.” His academic credentials are, if possible, even more eggheady than Obama’s: Princeton undergrad (where he made his bones not on the macho gridiron but in the nerdy debate hall), Harvard Law School (magna cum laude). He has a lucrative practice as a Supreme Court litigator. Hard to imagine him slammin’ down Shiner Bocks and listenin’ to Willie Nelson.
But Mr. Cruz was the messenger, the vehicle, the symbol. An example had to be made of supposed sellouts like Dewhurst, whose alleged apostasy included once supporting a payroll tax. At a debate sponsored by a Houston Tea Party group, Dewhurst was heckled with shouts of “Liar!” and “Not true!” when he returned fire on Cruz.
An example had to be made of supposed sellouts like Dewhurst, whose alleged apostasy included once supporting a payroll tax.
And so it is that David Dewhurst has been convicted of being too liberal for Texas Republicans. A man who passed a voter ID law that could block an estimated 1.5 million (mostly minority) Texans from voting is too liberal for Texas Republicans.
A man who passed a pre-abortion ultrasound bill more stringent than the controversial Virginia law is too liberal. A man who called President Obama “the most serious threat to America since World War II” is too liberal. (Really, David? What about, umm, the Evil Empire? Or al Qaeda? Or, I don’t know, lite beer?) A man whose response to the movie-theater slaughter in Aurora, Colo., was to call it “terrible,” then hasten to add “I am a strong believer in the Second Amendment” is too liberal.
Get ready for Sen. Ted Cruz to replace pro-choice, moderate, establishment Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. In his victory speech Cruz singled out such non-Texans as Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity. He also said it was as “a providential sign” that his victory came on what would have been the 100th birthday of Milton Friedman, the right’s favorite economic icon.
I doubt that the Almighty timed the Texas Republican Senate runoff to coincide with Dr. Friedman’s birthday. But maybe He did so to remind us He has a sense of humor—albeit of the bitter, ironic kind. After all, Milton Friedman was the father of the payroll tax.
Paul Begala is a Newsweek/Daily Beast columnist, a CNN contributor, an affiliated professor of public policy at Georgetown, and a senior adviser to Priorities USA Action, a progressive PAC.