While on deadline for this issue, I watched Senator Ted Cruz surge to victory in the Wisconsin primary, and I was struck by the fact that he is moving into a new phase of his presidential campaign. “We are winning because we are uniting the Republican party,” he said in his victory speech. “Uniting” is not a word that typically comes to mind when I think about Cruz, and that’s exactly how he has wanted it. The anti-establishment, anti–federal government message that has endeared him to voters here has made him toxic in Washington, D.C., even among members of his own party. In fact, let me rephrase that: particularly among members of his own party. As Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina, put it, “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.”
And yet, here was Cruz looking to bring together what is left of the GOP in an effort to defeat Donald Trump. That’s a dynamic my colleague Erica Grieder explores in “Round the Bend” as she sizes up the mess that Republicans are going to have to sweep up regardless of who prevails. A reckoning is coming no matter what.
I am also struck by what the hyper-partisanship of our day means back home. Cruz has positioned himself as the newest face in a long line of presidential contenders from Texas: John Nance Garner, Lyndon Johnson, John Connally, Lloyd Bentsen, George H. W. Bush, Phil Gramm, George W. Bush, and Rick Perry. But the formula that has propelled Cruz to the forefront of the national conversation has also diminished the quality of our state officials: Attorney General Ken Paxton is facing felony charges and has continued to hurt his office’s reputation by piling on the bad decisions. Agriculture commissioner Sid Miller can barely put on his Stetson without committing some sort of gaffe. And it didn’t help that on Super Tuesday, Mary Lou Bruner, who has said that Barack Obama once worked as a gay prostitute and that climate change is a hoax being pushed by Communists, won 48 percent of the vote and a spot in the run-off for a seat on the State Board of Education.
For Cruz, who has spent his short time in the Senate working for a narrow base, the question remains whether he can embrace a more mainstream role. That’s something Grieder will watch carefully in her ongoing coverage of Cruz, which will include reporting from the Republican National Convention, in July. Read her in our pages and on Burkablog every day. Who knows? The story just may end with another Texan in the White House.