By James Carville - 10/01/13 11:22 PM EDT
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is the most talented and fearless Republican politician I’ve seen in the last 30 years. He’s perhaps the most influential freshman senator in American history. He’s going to run for president, and don’t be fooled — he is going to wreck havoc for years to come.
That’s the gist of what I said in May on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
Sure, he infuriates his colleagues. And sure, the press finds him ambitious. But what’s also true is that Cruz represents the mainstream of the Republican Party.
After nominating electable, “Morning Joe” Republicans like John McCain and Mitt Romney for president, the GOP has gravitated toward someone who thinks like them, who articulates their point of view, who isn’t squishy on litmus-test issues. What Cruz is doing is just being a rational politician: he’s articulating what his base voters want him to.
Democracy Corps, the public polling organization Stan Greenberg and I founded, started a new initiative this summer called the Republican Party Project, in which we’ll do regular, national surveys and focus groups of self-identified Republicans.
What we’ve found is that despite losing the popular vote in five out of the last six presidential elections, the Republican Party has moved dramatically to the right — and to no one’s surprise, the party is deeply divided.
A majority of Republicans (53 percent) now identify with the Tea Party; a quarter of those call themselves strong supporters. And a majority of Republicans are favorable toward the Tea Party, even as it has lost favor outside the GOP.
Look, the Tea Party voters that Cruz represents are not on the fringe of the party. They are the mainstream. They represent a larger share of the Republican Party electorate than both African-Americans and labor union households in the Democratic Party combined.
Two-thirds (66 percent) of Republicans believe the party is now offering realistic solutions to the country’s problems, so get ready for more filibusters, government shutdowns and general obstructionism.
This ultra-conservative faction holds far-right views on fiscal, political and social issues. They say homosexuality should be discouraged. They do not believe that humans are causing global warming. They think Fox News is mainstream media. While these views are out of line with the mainstream of the country, they are very mainstream within the GOP.
And while their party is starting a demographic tidal surge that could swamp them for years to come, a majority of Republican voters don’t want to go back to the “establishment” leading the party. Fifty-nine percent of them believe the GOP should be more conservative.
In contrast to the rest of the country, including moderate Republicans, this conservative majority in the GOP does not see the party as “too extreme.” While half of moderate Republicans and independents say “too extreme” describes the Republican Party very well, less than a fifth (18 percent) of Tea Party adherents and evangelicals feel this way. If anything, they believe the Republican Party is not going far enough.
My friend Joe Scarborough says that real conservatives like himself and Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and The Wall Street Journal editorial page are just smarter — that they can both have conservative values and try to win elections. But people like him could likely never get out of a Republican primary today.
Among Republicans, a politician like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has a better reputation than Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or Speaker John Boehner (Ohio). A quarter (23 percent) of Republicans give Paul and Sarah Palin the highest rating on our 100-point scale.
So you see, Cruz is not some whack job hijacking Congress for his own personal benefit (well, sort of), he is simply representing the mainstream of the Republican Party. When all is said and done, he will be able to tell his conservative friends who sit around listening to Rush Limbaugh all day that he was out there fighting for them. That when lily-livered Republicans like Boehner and Charles Krauthammer wanted the GOP to give in, he stood for principle. He said he would shut down the government over ObamaCare, and you know what — he did.
Former Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox famously said the problem with the Georgia prisons was the quality of the inmate. Well, the problem with the Republican Party is the quality of the person who votes in their primaries. Unfortunately for them and for the country, that’s not changing anytime soon. And that is why Ted Cruz is here to stay.
Carville is a chief political correspondent for ARISE Television. He also serves as a professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he lives with his wife, Republican strategist Mary Matalin. His column will appear twice a month in The Hill.