Ted Cruz may not have killed Obamacare with his 21-hour speech on the Senate floor this week. He may not have endeared himself to most of his Republican colleagues, who think his grandstanding wasted precious time. He may not have done anything good for the country, given that his extended harangue has made a government shutdown more likely. But he probably did something good for one person: Ted Cruz.
The freshman Republican senator from Texas is an upstart, a renegade and a destructive force -- not the kind of personality that generally does well in the tradition-bound United States Senate. But the base of the Republican Party and members of the tea party movement (which, arguably, are synonymous) have no problem with his style. To the contrary, they prefer upstarts who challenge the entrenched powers in their party. They love a renegade who bucks the tide in Washington. And they think a destructive force is just what is needed to knock down the ramparts of big, overbearing government.
Not since Ronald Reagan have the most militant Republican conservatives had a candidate for president they truly adored. The first George Bush was a government careerist who raised taxes. Bob Dole was a creature of the Senate. The second Bush was a "compassionate conservative" who let the deficit get out of hand. John McCain was a maverick in the wrong direction. Mitt Romney was an empty suit who adopted positions not out of principle but simply to please a target group.
Ted Cruz appears to be exactly their kind of candidate. Like them, he does not believe shutting down the government or failing to raise the debt ceiling would be such a bad thing. Like them, he sees no reason to compromise principles in order to make sure the government continues to function. He hates government and so do they.
Is Cruz a candidate for the White House? Plenty of politicians and pundits are convinced that his unrelenting assault on Obamacare has everything to do with a future presidential run. Cruz is no dummy. He has to know that, with Democrats in charge of the Senate and Barack Obama in the White House, Obamacare cannot be repealed. Nevertheless, if he can be seen by the deep-red right as a champion willing to stand up for them against even the toughest odds, he can win even by losing.
The other potential GOP candidates all fall short in one way or another with conservatives (even though, by any traditional measure, they are all quite conservative). Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, like his brother and father, comes across as suspiciously moderate. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's conservatism is of the libertarian kind, which makes social conservatives and foreign policy hawks nervous. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is soft on immigration.