Ted Cruz's Strategy to Be Tea Party Senator is Working — For Now

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As one of the few Tea Party favorites to actually make it to Washington, Ted Cruz has a problem. How do you maintain outsider status while inside the Capitol? Simple: Buck leadership, advocate unrealistic hard-line positions, and refuse to help the establishment. For now, he doesn't have to choose between his base and his job.

While in New Hampshire (ahem), the junior senator from Texas told the press that, no, he wouldn't be endorsing his colleague John Cornyn in his upcoming primary. The Washington Post reports that Cruz told reporters, "I think it is likely that I am going to stay out of incumbent primaries across the country, either supporting incumbents or opposing incumbents." Cornyn didn't blink in his response to Cruz: "He and I agree that the only endorsements that matter are those of the Texas voters and I look forward to earning their vote in 2014." That's likely different in tone than any conversation Cornyn and Cruz had prior to the the latter's decision to sit on his hands.

If Cornyn were to face a serious primary opponent — which he doesn't at this point — it seems likely that Cornyn would be less sanguine about Cruz's willingness to be disloyal. Until then, Cruz doesn't have to choose between constituencies: the independence-minded Tea Party base for whom few incumbents are sufficiently conservative, and the party itself, which is willing to tolerate a little insurrection in exchange for keeping that base close.

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Nor is that specific to Texas. Earlier this month, Cruz stated that he wouldn't back Mitch McConnell in the Senate minority leader's upcoming primary. There's little question that McConnell will win reelection, again giving Cruz a measure of cover. But it certainly hasn't done anything to endear the freshman to his more established colleague from Kentucky.

The hallmark of Cruz's obstreperousness is his fight to defund Obamacare, a fight he has now all-but-completely appropriated from his colleague Sen. Mike Lee. Cruz continues to insist that a "tsunami" of activists could wash away the health care policy, despite the solidly built wall that is the Democratic opposition. But Cruz is optimistic. Maybe, he said on CNN on Sunday, Obama will decide to defund the program. The Huffington Post picked up that assertion.

"The president is never going to sign the bill that defunds Obamacare," Crowley told Cruz in the interview.

"You know, you may be convinced of that," Cruz said.

"That's a windmill, not a giant, Mr. Quixote." "You know, you may be convinced of that."

As we have detailed with increasing incredulity, Cruz has nothing to lose in this effort. Unlike those who advocate impeachment, Cruz can make a logically plausible case for killing Obamacare: hold the government hostage to his demands. Force the president to choose between funding the government at all and preserving his health policy. Politically it's a non-starter, but it's at least conceivable. And it gets to the heart of what Tea Party members want: someone willing to toss the whole thing on the trash heap if they don't get what they want.

Again, Cruz is in a win-win position — for now. He doesn't need to choose between being the 51st vote to keep the government open and moving to defund the bill. He can play to the base, without having to put his money where his mouth is.

Last week, Cruz released his birth certificate, showing that he was perfectly capable of running for president. On that CNN show, he pretended to be surprised anyone thought it suggested he meant to run for president in 2016. IT did, of course. But not nearly as much as his moves to keep the Tea Party close to his chest. Cruz is seven months into his tenure in the Senate, and so far, he's managed to walk the line between the establishment and the insurgency. His hope, clearly, is that he can keep doing that at least until the next time he comes to New Hampshire.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.