Jason Zengerle’s Ted Cruz profile is an interesting read. This passage merits some comment:
“We’re in a moment when the combination of being hard-core and intelligent is really at a premium,” says National Review writer Ramesh Ponnuru, who’s been friends with Cruz since they went to Princeton together. “Because the two things that conservatives are tired of are politicians who sell out and politicians who embarrass them by not being able to make an account of themselves.” In this arithmetic, Mitt Romney is the sellout and Sarah Palin is the embarrassment—and Cruz is the great new hope who brings the virtues of both without the liabilities of either.
And yet when it comes to policy, the man hailed as the “Tea Party intellectual” has deployed that powerful intellect only sparingly since arriving in Washington. Cruz’s most ambitious proposal to date has been his call to abolish the IRS—something that, as one Cruz admirer lamented to me, “he’s smart enough to know is an entirely cynical thing to do.” Meanwhile, his effort to shut down the federal government (remember how well that worked out for the GOP the last time they tried it?) unless Obamacare is defunded prompted North Carolina Republican senator Richard Burr to call it “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.” In multiple conversations with people who know Cruz well, I kept hearing the same refrain: “He’s smart enough to know better.”
Oddly enough, that’s the same thing many people said about Romney last year. “Oh, he’s very intelligent, and he doesn’t mean any of the things he’s forced to say during the campaign.” The “smart enough to know better” line is what you say when a smart person adopts tactics that won’t work or endorses policy views that make no sense. It’s a condemnation of bad judgment masked as puzzlement. Of course, being intelligent is no guarantee of good judgment, and when combined with a combative temperament it can make a person downright unbearable. As the profile shows, that’s the story of Ted Cruz’s political career.
It’s useful to remember that Cruz won the primary last year not because of any substantive policy disagreement or even because of his superior qualifications, but because he pledged that he would be uncooperative, combative, and generally obnoxious once in office. He has delivered on that promise, but I wonder if that is the kind of representation that most Texans or conservatives genuinely want. Cruz has excelled at rubbing people the wrong way, but this has extended not only to the people that he thinks he’s supposed to irritate (i.e., party leaders, Democrats, journalists, etc.) but to other conservatives and would-be allies in Congress. On foreign policy, he has achieved the rare feat of being identified as both hawk and “isolationist” while making himself unattractive to both. He’s quickly becoming the kind of politician that many people on the right don’t want to have on their side: loud, abrasive, and ineffective.