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Ted Cruz: The New Schwarzenegger

And we don't mean that in a good way

By Richard Whittaker, 7:00AM, Tue. Aug. 7, 2012

US Senate nominee Ted Cruz: The newest future of the GOP (until the next one)
US Senate nominee Ted Cruz: The newest future of the GOP (until the next one)
Photo by Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons

There's something in the contemporary GOP's DNA that loves making political ingenues into the next big thing. Now it's US Senate nominee Ted Cruz who will lead the party into a glorious future. But, wait, wasn't that Arnold Schwarzenegger's job?

Oh, how soon we forget.

The Tea Party line is that Cruz pulled off a near-impossible defeat of the establishment. Well, that's plausible, if you also buy that the Tea Party isn't just a bunch of industrial plutocrats (cough*Koch*cough) and conservative heavy hitters (coughcough*JimDeMint*coughcough) plugging into the same old inchoate fringe right rage.

Wait, isn't that exactly what happened with Schwarzenegger?

Let's play comparisons. A seeming political outsider, a foreign-born citizen (Arnie in Austria, Cruz to an American mother and Cuban-born father in Canada) sent in to clear up the "girlie men" who refused to fix the economic black hole. Oh, and how the right loves them both in the early days – back before they had a record to defend. Hey, remember when the GOP was willing to rewrite the 14th Amendment, just so the governator could run for president? Yes, back before they wanted to rewrite it so even some children born in the USA couldn't become citizens.

In a sane environment, Cruz's background would put paid to the entire birther baloney (if Cruz is American, then President Barack Obama, born in Hawaii to an American mother and a Kenyan father, must be one too.) However, we're not talking about sane environments. We're talking about GOP primary runoffs.

And then there's that awkward little bit of family history. No, not as bad as Schwarzenneger's dad being a card-carrying Nazi. Cruz has made some play out of the fact his father fled repression in Cuba. Now the presumption is always going to be that he obviously fled Castro's dictatorship, but in fact he fought with Castro against the US-backed Batista regime. Cruz argues that his father never knew Castro was a communist, but there's always going to be that complicated dance around that sordid little era of US foreign policy.

And, as for the political outsider line, yeah, no. Arnie married into the Kennedys, and Cruz is a former Texas solicitor general and 2011 Republican Leadership Conference speaker.

Yet both serve a specific purpose, as both were presented as a way to access a valuable voting block. In Schwarzenegger's case, Schwarzenegger fans. In Cruz's case, Hispanic voters.

The glee over Cruz's primary win over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is so overpowering that some are calling it the death knell of the establishment GOP. Hell's teeth, they're even shoving Florida's junior US Senator Marco Rubio out of the way

But let's not overestimate the size of Cruz's victory. Texas, infamous for its low turnout, delivered him a wopping 4.5% of all registered voters. Most of his big wins came in traditional big turn-out counties, like Dallas, Fort Worth and Collins. Expect some real number-crunching to see whether he truly turned out Hispanic voters or not.

And here's the funny thing about that Cruz "surprise" win. No-one was surprised. There was some to'ing and fro'ing about how big it would be, but the consensus was that Dewhurst lost the battle during the the first round. That was a numbers game: He faced eight opponents, and it's tough to get out of that kind of split field – especially when you're not that popular to begin with.

Weeks before Dewhurst's defeat, Democratic US Senate hopeful Paul Sadler explained that the seeds of the lite guv's undoing had already been sown. Dewhurst is a sub-par campaigner: Much like Gov. Rick Perry, he's faced a series of underdog opponents and been able to steamroll them without really engaging. This time around, the media was fascinated by Cruz and locked into perpetual campaign coverage. For Sadler, the real problem was that Dewhurst hired Dave Carney, the Karl Rove wannabe who has spearheaded Perry's campaigns since 1988. After two failing presidential nomination campaigns in one season (Perry and Newt Gingrich) Carney signed up with Dewhust, and went to his number one play: Paint Cruz as a trial lawyer. When that didn't work, they just went negative. Now normally that's pretty succesful, but when Dewhurst continually failed to provide any positives to balance out the negatives, then he may as well have stayed at home.

So why the sound and fury about Cruz being the future?

Possibly it's because the contemporary Republican Party's bench is a mile wide but an inch deep. That's why some Republicans are touting a Cruz/George P. Bush ticket, even though Cruz has yet to serve an instant in elected office, and Jr. Jr.'s sole claim to fame is that he is now the Republican Party of Texas' deputy finance chairman. Giddy heights, giddy heights.

Or maybe it's because the Texas GOP – nay, the GOP at a national level – knows that they have to do a better job at reaching out to Hispanic voters. And Cruz and his wranglers think that he knows how to play that card. On Fox News on Sunday, he claimed, "I've never once have seen a Hispanic panhandler, because in our community, it would be viewed as shameful to be out on the street begging. Those are all conservative values – faith, family, hard work, responsibility." Hispanic Republicans are already running with that as a meme, but may have to consider that a: the idea there are no Hispanic panhandlers is baloney (and widely slammed by reporters) and b: how well will that play with the GOP's "speak English or die" brigade.

And maybe Cruz should look at what happened to Arnie. True, they rose on different ascendant stars, with Schwarzenegger being painted as a moderate while Cruz ran from the far, far right. Arnie ended up being too moderate for the GOP, and they trailed away, leaving him clear to make The Expendables II and found a profoundly bipartisan think tank. Neither of them can be classified as "doing badly" but it ain't the White House.

Now no-one is going to portray Cruz as a moderate. Yet the GOP base can be mercurial, especially the Tea Party (just ask Perry.) They're all yowling over full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, but no serious analyst thinks the GOP will have the Senate votes in 2013 to manage that. Cue another backlash. And much as Cruz may portray himself as anti-establishment, he owes his political career to that same establishment. Moreover, he rose in part by standing on the backs of much more seasoned right wingers like Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston (and how long before Alex Jones gets over his Tea Party crush and starts daubing him as "La Raza"?)

So when does casting for The Expendables III start?

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