Meet the Republicans Who Want to Be the Next Ted Cruz

The senator from Texas might be persona non grata in parts of Washington, but red-state candidates idolize him.
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Joe Mitchell/Reuters

Right now, hard-line conservatives would clone Ted Cruz if they could. But with 2014 around the corner, they might be able to do the next best thing. 

"To call me the next Ted Cruz," says Chris McDaniel, who announced last week that he would challenge Thad Cochran of Mississippi, the second-most-senior Republican in the Senate. "I would certainly consider that a compliment."

McDaniel, who has been serving as a state senator since 2008, is exactly the type of candidate whom establishment Republicans have been worrying about, the kind who leads moderate-to-conservative lawmakers to dig their heels in with the right flank of their party so as not to be called wimpy. Within moments of announcing his candidacy, McDaniel earned the triple crown of conservative endorsements: one from the Club for Growth, one from the Senate Conservative Fund, and one from the Madison Project. He has criticized Cochran for voting in favor of the deal that reopened the government and raised the debt ceiling.

To McDaniel, the shutdown was not a mistake; the Republican leadership "lacks passion," and he's ready to come to D.C. to "do everything he can to put a stake in the heart of Obamacare."

Candidates out there like McDaniel are the Xanax for depressed conservatives. They know they've lost this particular fight, but they can numb themselves a bit believing that reinforcements are waiting in the wings.

"I think we are going to be in a much stronger position with upcoming [elections]," Rep. Justin Amash, the Michigan Republican, said. It's part of the argument that conservatives like to make after each loss—that the reason for defeat wasn't because people like them overreached, but because there weren't enough other people like them to stand strong.

"It's pretty hard when [John Boehner] has a circle of 20 people that step up every day and say, 'Can we surrender today, Mr. Speaker? Can we just go away? Can we make it easy?'" Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a Kansas Republican, said to a group of reporters last week. "I would say the surrender caucus is the whiner caucus, and all they do is whine about the battle, as if they thought being elected to Washington was going to be an easy job."

For Tea Party-type candidates around the country, the shutdown is perhaps the best thing that could have ever happened to their campaigns. Out in Idaho, Bryan Smith has giddily watched as his opponent, Rep. Mike Simpson, has had to tie himself into knots about how to deal with the defunding of Obamacare.

"What you have is a representative who was against it and then for it, against it again, but for it in the future," Smith said in an interview. "It's a good reason to send someone there who has been against funding Obamacare from the beginning."

Simpson was the only member of the Idaho delegation to vote to end the shutdown. He said it was because it was the right thing to do for citizens of Idaho. Smith says Simpson did it out of fear. 

"I think we need to make our decisions—our votes are serious and important—based on principle, not based on fear," he said. "If somebody is afraid, they may not consider their principles."

Fear of economic collapse, fear of angry furloughed voters, fear of falling out of leadership's favor. Like Cruz, Smith and McDaniel aren't worried about all that. 

"Maybe we should learn to fight again, and I'm excited to be a part of it," said McDaniel. "It's going to be fun."

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Ben Terris is a staff reporter for National Journal.

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