Cruz Envy

News analysis by Andrew Stiles

Ted Cruz
February 24, 2014

Liberals don’t like Ted Cruz, but they’re rooting for him, because they feel he’s going to destroy the Republican Party. What they ought to be feeling is this: profound embarrassment.

Ever since his unexpected primary win over an establishment-backed lieutenant governor in 2012, Cruz has been a source of great frustration to the Republican establishment. The conservative base is crazy about him for this very reason. It’s why the junior Senator from Texas has become the most influential politician in Washington.

Meanwhile, what does the liberal base have to show for itself? Who is the liberal Ted Cruz? Most people seem to think Elizabeth Warren, the freshman Senator from Massachusetts, is the closet thing to Cruz's left-wing counterpart. But when is the last time Warren was in the news? When is the last time you even heard her name? When is the last time she had a best-selling coloring book?

This is not to say that publicity is the best measure of political success. But given the fact that, as Michael Tomasky writes in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, Warren is supposed to be spearheading a "new populism" that’s going to revive the left and pull the Democratic Party in a more liberal direction, it’s curious how marginal she seems to have become.

Tomasky says that the "large and passionate following" Warren has acquired is a "major development." ABC News applauds the success of her "no-frills approach" as a "dramatic departure" from the "grandeur and poetry" of President Obama’s rise to political prominence. But what about her actual accomplishments?

The first piece of legislation Warren authored – to reform the federal student loan program – was described by the left-leaning Brookings Institution as an "embarrassingly bad" proposal that "should be quickly dismissed as a cheap political gimmick." On the other hand, as the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart pointed out, a YouTube clip of Warren introducing her bill got more than 100,000 hits and was promoted by Upworthy.

Warren stars in a number of "viral" YouTube videos, the popularity of which, according to Tomasky, reflects her "knack for earthy articulation of the liberal-populist worldview." The videos prove that liberals are not very fond of rich people, Wall Street, and The Corporations – all major contributors to Obama’s historic 2008 campaign – and that liberals enjoy watching people throw shade at their hate objects.

How does this constitute a "new line" for the Democratic Party? Unclear.

Cruz, meanwhile, has already had a considerable impact on the 2014 midterms, in which six incumbent GOP Senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), face primary challenges from the right. Maybe Warren will emerge as a major player on the left, and inspire similar primary insurgents. Her political action committee, PAC for a Level Playing Field, raised almost $600,000 in 2013, which is about $200,000 less than what Cruz hauled in during his 21-hour Obamacare filibuster. There are a number of "Warren wing" candidates running for Congress this year, most of which are expected to lose, and none of which are eager to challenge Democratic incumbents. But hey, you never know.

What about outside liberal activists? Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has already spent millions in support of immigration reform and anti-Second Amendment legislation and, unlike other liberal billionaires, he isn’t afraid to go after Democrats who oppose him. But Bloomberg doesn’t have much to show for his efforts – thanks in no small part to Cruz and his allies in Congress.

Cruz’s success should embarrass liberals because it underscores how impotent the left has become. Sure, Democrats have elected a number of base-friendly Senators, such as Warren, in deep-blue states like Massachusetts. But it remains the case that most Democratic incumbents have no reason to fear a primary challenge from the left.

That includes Senator Diane Feinstein of overwhelmingly blue California, who won an open primary in 2012 with 49 percent of the vote; her closest Democratic challenger got just two percent. It presumably irritates liberals that Feinstein, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, is one of the more outspoken defenders of the NSA’s surveillance program, and believes that fugitive spy Edward Snowden committed an "act of treason." National Journal rated Feinstein the 22nd most liberal Senator in 2013. Congrats, California!Is that really the best you can do?

Liberal victories, in Congress at least, are hard to come by. The left hated the Murray-Ryan budget deal, which locked in federal spending at reduced levels, and the left is still bitter about the 2011 debt-ceiling agreement, which didn’t raise taxes, as well as the 2013 fiscal-cliff deal, which didn’t raise taxes as much as the left would’ve liked. The Democrats who supported these measures – that is, all but a handful in both chambers – are unlikely to face any real political consequences for doing so.

Liberals are currently celebrating Obama’s decision not to include Social Security reform in his budget this year. But removing a hollow political gesture from a theoretical document seems like an awfully minor achievement. They’ve also declared war over one of Obama’s district court nominations, and have likely succeeded in stalling action on new trade agreements – at least until after the midterms elections. So they have that going for them.

The left can also claim victory in holding up construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. But theirs is an ironic victory, because it has come in large part due to the outsized influence of a handful of wealthy donors, something that liberals supposedly want to curtail.

And yet none of this suggests liberals will do anything other than stand aside as Hillary Clinton waltzes to the Democratic nomination in 2016 and raises millions from companies like Goldman Sachs, which paid Clinton at least $400,000 to give two speeches last year. Conservatives are certainly rooting for Warren, or her socialist colleague Bernie Sanders, to try and stop her. If only they could be more like Ted Cruz.