The “Cruz effect” may still carry a wallop for Texas Republicans

Posted Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Ted Cruz, Texas’ freshman senator, emerged from the bitter 16-day fight over the government shutdown and debt ceiling limit unapologetic and with his head, in the words of British poet William Ernest Henley, “bloody but unbowed.”

The de facto leader of the Republican Party in Texas, and a major force in the GOP on the national scene, almost single-handedly forced the nation to the brink of financial default in an attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act, major parts of which took effect Oct. 1, the same day the shutdown began.

What Cruz’s actions also achieved prior to Wednesday’s late-night vote to end the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling was to reveal and reinforce a fissure within the Republican Party, one that may have lasting effects for the party in the upcoming elections.

The question for Texans is whether the impact of that national divide will play out in local and statewide elections in the red state, where the Cruz influence is not likely to diminish.

Even when it was clear that they had lost the battle on Capitol Hill, every Texas Republican in the House and Senate voted against the bipartisan compromise bill to reopen the government.

With those votes, Lone Star State GOP leaders in effect declared themselves Ted Cruz Republicans, perhaps to appeal to the vocal Tea Party wing of the base and shore up support in next year’s primary campaigns.

To many, it didn’t matter that Cruz lost. What was important was that he fought in the face of what appeared to be an inescapable defeat.

The fight itself became more important than victory, in spite of the intraparty conflict it produced. Sen. John McCain, a former standard-bearer for Republicans, called it “one of the most shameful chapters” in the Senate and “a fool’s errand.”

But in Texas, with candidate filing for the 2014 elections beginning Nov. 9, Republican voters might find that moderate candidates have disappeared and all choices seek to demonstrate the rebellious spirit and philosophy of Cruz. Already many of those once considered centrist have been jockeying for positions more to the right.

Democrats undoubtedly hope the “Cruz effect” will be harmful to Republicans. At least in the race to replace Gov. Rick Perry, who won’t be running, the Democratic Party is planning to wage its most competitive statewide campaign in decades.

In the next few weeks we’ll see how many credible candidates and effective campaigns the state’s minority party can muster and how successful the GOP will be as the Party of Cruz.

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