The Dangers Facing Ted Cruz

By Peter Wehner, Commentary 

Katrina Trinko of National Review alerts us to the fact that during a question-and-answer session at a Montgomery County GOP dinner Monday night, Senator Ted Cruz was asked, “Why don’t we impeach [Obama]?”

Mr. Cruz responded, “It’s a good question, and I’ll tell you the simplest answer: To successfully impeach a president you need the votes in the U.S. Senate.” (Cruz noted that the Democrats controlled the Senate currently.)

In an interview with National Review Online after his comments, Mr. Cruz amended his remarks, suggesting that he would not pursue impeaching Obama in 2014 even if Republicans control both the House and Senate. “I think we should focus on fights that would make a difference, restoring economic growth and opportunity and fights that we have a realistic prospect of winning,” he told Trinko. About impeaching the president, Cruz said, “that’s not a fight we have a prospect of winning.”

But of course there’s no prospect of winning the fight to defund the Affordable Care Act, either, since it would require the House and Senate to pass, and the president to sign, a new law doing just that. And there’s no chance of that happening. But in this case Senator Cruz is not only willing to force a government shutdown over defunding the ACA; he said that those who disagree with him are part of the “surrender caucus.”

So has Senator Cruz lost his nerve when it comes to impeaching the president? Is the fact that he won’t pursue impeachment evidence that he’s part of the “surrender caucus”? Has he gone all “establishment” on us? Doesn’t the junior senator from Texas have the courage of his conservative convictions? After all, if trying to defund ObamaCare demands Republicans embrace a losing cause, doesn’t impeaching the architect of ObamaCare require at least as much courage from them?

Just asking.

What’s troubling, because it’s more revealing, is that Senator Cruz, rather than challenging the premise of his questioner, pandered to the audience member. A more responsible and genuinely conservative lawmaker would have answered the question asked of him by saying something like this: “Impeachment requires an impeachable offense. The president has done many things I disagree with, and I’m determined to fight and resist them, but that doesn’t mean he has done anything impeachable. He is the elected president, I’m an elected senator, we each have to fight for what we believe and let voters decide how we’re doing. Impeachment is not a political weapon.”

So what ought we make of all this? A reasonable conclusion, I think, is that Senator Cruz is willing to take positions that are irresponsible and would be harmful to both his party and his country in order to appeal to its hard-core base. By sending a signal to his audience that in his heart of hearts he favors impeachment–and all the political and civic trauma impeachment would cause–Mr. Cruz is showing a lack of public character. He would rather play footsie with fringe theories than to challenge them.

By all accounts Cruz is an intelligent man, so he surely knows better. But he’s also an extraordinarily ambitious person, and one senses he’s a young man in a hurry. I for one hope he slows down; and I hope, too, that he surrounds himself with advisers and friends who are willing to warn him that he (like all of us) possesses particular traits and dispositions that can eventually get him into trouble. One hopes he’s self-aware enough to check them rather than to indulge them.

For those on the right who will rise up in defense of Cruz and lash out at his critics, I’d simply point out two things. The first is that Senator Cruz’s approach–ridiculing Republicans who aren’t willing to shut down the government over ObamaCare here, wishing impeachment were possible there–is harmful to conservatism. Second, there’s nothing principled in what Senator Cruz is doing. He is, in fact, playing a cynical game. He’s actually fairly skillful at it, which is more worrisome still. The danger for him is that the more he gets away with it now, the more likely he is to build on it down the road. It may be produce short-term gains–but in the end, things like this often have a way of catching up with people.

Senator Cruz is clearly a talented person, and he could be a powerful voice for conservatism. Or he could, if he’s not careful, fly too close to the sun. Ted Cruz is well read enough to know that it’s a long and painful drop to the sea.

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