Ted Cruz did not enter the Senate quietly. Within weeks of his debut in 2013, he was making headlines: questioning would-be Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on ill-founded ties to North Korea, garnering comparisons to Joe McCarthy from Senate colleagues, charging Sen. Dianne Feinstein with a lack of understanding of the Constitution, to which she responded, "I'm not a sixth-grader."
Cruz's freshman year playbook: Open big, ruffle feathers, and keep running.
This all led up to the centerpiece of Cruz's first year in office: the September 21-hour Senate speech on Obamacare that preceded the 16-day government shutdown. Looking back, it doesn't seem as if Cruz's unabashed debut is hurting him now. If anything, it reinforces his conservative resume for a 2016 presidential run.
From the House of Representatives in 2013, Tom Cotton was looking on approvingly. "You can see over the last four months what a guy like Ted Cruz has been able to do in the United States Senate," Cotton said in a May 2013 video, apparently addressing supporters. "We need to get more people like that elected." Comparing himself to Cruz and other Constitution-touting conservatives, Cotton said "There's not enough of us in Congress."
Now that Cotton is a senator himself, he appears to be following the outline of Cruz's freshman year playbook: Open big, ruffle feathers, and keep running.
Like Cruz, Cotton has stirred controversy in Senate hearings. Referring to the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Cotton said that detainees "could rot in hell" and that the problem with Gitmo is there are "too many empty beds."
And, like Cruz was accused of undermining a fiscal deal between the White House and House Speaker John Boehner, Cotton is now being accused of undermining the White House in its nuclear talks with Iran, and making life difficult for Bob Corker, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman who is seeking bipartisan action on Iran.
Sure, the shutdown and the Iran letter are very different circumstances, but the tactic is similar: rally like-minded members of the party to off-ramp the plans of establishment powers. And in the process, precipitate rumors of a future presidential run.
Also like Cruz, Cotton is making use of his time in the spotlight, appearing on multiple cable-news shows and writing op-eds. "The name 'Tom Cotton' is now on so many lips, and he surely has more requests for television interviews than he could ever wish for," Paul Waldman at The Washington Post writes. (A call to Cotton's office Wednesday afternoon went straight to voicemail, and the mailbox was full.) Cotton's actions have been characterized as being extreme or unprecedented. But, if he follows the precedent Cruz has set, it's likely Cotton will stay in the spotlight.