He will rise again. Make no mistake. Ted Cruz is already on the comeback trail. Indeed, he was never really defeated in the first place. A freshman senator, in office for less than a year, he scheduled a news conference Wednesday evening to compete directly with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's announcement of an end to the government-shutdown/debt-ceiling debacle.
Cruz, whose bloody fingerprints are all over the crime scene, has not only escaped scot-free, he has been strengthened by his failed congressional putsch. Consider:
Cruz and his allies on the extremist right have already begun making the claim that their cause was not defeated but betrayed. Whimpering, simpering moderates lost their nerve. The Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh has moaned, sold out its principles in a deluded quest to appeal to "the moderate independents." Erick Erickson, too, feels the pain of a stab in the back: "Men like Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and others have preached a great sermon against Obamacare, but now conservatives who supported them see that these men have refused to actually practice what they've been preaching."
They tell themselves that they would have succeeded had the government been allowed to default. The world would then have understood that national default was not the disaster its scare-mongering opponents claimed for it, that America stood ready and able to pay its bills, and that Tea Party intransigence on the debt ceiling was truly the only patriotic thing to do. This is why Limbaugh and his ilk now claim that the Republican Party is an empty shell, the "most irrelevant' political party in American history.
Ted Cruz is on hand to embrace all those brave right-wingers who have been thus stabbed in the back. The extremist right will see the debt-ceiling struggle not as a loss, but as a battle they have only begun to fight. It will take its place next to The 300 Spartans, Braveheart, and every other noble-defeat-turned-to-victory meme the mind of man can imagine.
And Cruz has well-springs of support that should not be underestimated. His polling numbers among self-identified conservatives have never been higher. And he has a ready-made network to disseminate his views. Right-wing talk media -- radio and television -- have been spewing hatred for many years now. Rush Limbaugh was rightly exposed as a bully for his attacks on Sandra Fluke, but ten and twenty years ago, he was denouncing the poor as "human debris." Neil Boortz, a popular southern talk-show demagogue, mocks homeless people who freeze to death as "bumsicles" ("human icicles" for those not in the know). These shows speak to an alienated, resentful America that will look on Cruz not with disdain but with fondness.
Large and dense networks of groups capable of organized political action are also at hand. The Harvard sociologist Theda Skocpol has identified some 900 local Tea Party groups capable of "federated action." Their most immediate target, quite clearly, is the purification of the Republican Party. Given money and direction at the top by freelancing billionaires and organizations like Heritage Action, Skocpol sees the Tea Party as having "destroyed the institutional integrity of the Republican Party" in many parts of the country.
Cruz, furthermore, is able to draw from a right-wing ideology that has very deep roots in some of the most enduringly destructive features of American history. Frank Rich has shown its strong connections to John C. Calhoun's doctrine of nullification, the belief that states and localities have the power to annul federal law. Cruz can draw as well from the ancient hatreds of the Know-Nothings, the white Protestant bullies who waged mayhem against Catholic immigrants in the 1840s and 1850s. You might have believed that these thought-worlds were banished to the back pages of old history books, but Rich makes the case that Cruz is summoning these harpies back to life.
In its modern manifestations, the ideology of the radical right is firmly rooted in a whole series of conspiracy theories. There are the Second Amendment absolutists who stockpile ammunition for Armageddon all the while preaching fear and loathing of the government. There are the anti-tax zealots who are convinced that American tax law is rooted in an unconstitutional seizure of power. There are the enemies of science, such as those who assert that climatologists simply doing their research are engaged in a grand conspiracy to bring about one-world government.
Then there are the gold bugs who view the Federal Reserve as a conspiracy to debase and destroy the good old American dollar. And let's not forget Agenda 21 -- that favorite nervous tick of nativists. A set of voluntary objectives adopted by the United Nations and directed towards such laudatory goals as the relief of poverty and the promotion of conservation, this plan has been denounced as a mortal threat to American sovereignty by the American right-wing. Nor are these denunciations any longer part of the fringe. The 2012 Republican platform included a plank opposing this benign attempt at coordinated action to address global problems.
Thanks to the right-wing echo chamber that panders to these bizarre beliefs if only to make money off of them, these ideas are deeply-ingrained in large swaths of the American public. And subscribers to alternative world-views are fertile ground for a demagogue like Ted Cruz.
Cruz' persona is archetypal. One wonders how deliberately he has crafted it. He is the Huey Long, the Joe McCarthy of our age, willing to create chaos in the system in order to profit from it. He will rise again. "Real Americans," we are already being told, regard him as a "hero." There is little doubt in my mind that Cruz expected, even courted, this temporary set-back just to exploit it for all it's worth. He knows that betrayal sells. He gets to play Jim Bowie at the Alamo, William Wallace against the evil King Edward. Americans would make a terrible mistake if they did not prepare for his second act.