Paul and Cruz Chart Different Paths to Senate (and National) Power

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted September 24, 2013 at 4:46pm

Both Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky might be beloved by the conservative base, but the way they deal with colleagues and the Senate institution highlights that not all tea party darlings are alike.

And their differences may foreshadow their distinct futures within the party, particularly as the 2016 presidential sweepstakes begins to shake out in the coming years.

As we reported Monday, Cruz is causing some heartburn for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, as he is both vice chairman of the committee and actively involved with the Senate Conservatives Fund, a group known for its anti-incumbent activity against Republicans.

Cruz also has created an uncomfortable situation for his colleagues by setting up an artificial win-lose scenario for the GOP on a pending stopgap bill. In effect, he has been arguing that if Republicans don’t filibuster the bill that defunds Obamacare, then they lose the battle to defund Obamacare. But many Republicans have been grumbling that Cruz has prevented them from making the debate on the continuing resolution about cutting spending — a fight the GOP has won consistently over the past few years.

The maneuvering isn’t making Cruz any friends in his first year in Washington and neither, apparently, is his attitude.

Meanwhile, Paul has been more deliberate in his Senate strategy, even if he is lumped into Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain’s infamous “whacko bird” category.

Paul has long cultivated a relationship with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and he backed off his support of the Senate Conservatives Fund once he officially decided to back McConnell’s 2014 re-election bid.

The SCF seems likely to endorse McConnell’s conservative opponent, Matt Bevin. The Paul-McConnell relationship has resulted in a more coherent legislative strategy for Paul, who often gets votes on his amendments at the expense of more veteran senators. Though those amendments rarely get enough votes for adoption, Paul generally heralds having a vote as a victory for his particular “weltanschauung.”

Even in the 2010 class of senators packed with conservatives, Paul has tried to be considerate with his colleagues. Last Congress, more established GOP senators privately complained that those in the tea party wing of the GOP conference seemed to be talking AT them. But while Paul often disagreed with longer-serving members, he attempted to hear his fellow senators out, aides said at the time. Plus, he has teamed up with Democrats on national security legislation and has proved himself capable of working in a bipartisan way on other bills.

It’s unclear that Cruz will be able to do the same in the years to come. He seems to be positioning himself more as a Jim DeMint-type figure, who used his perch as a South Carolina senator to shape national politics but not necessarily policy. DeMint founded the Senate Conservatives Fund and is now the head of The Heritage Foundation.

Notably, Rand Paul actually did hold up Senate consideration of John O. Brennan’s nomination to be CIA director when he staged a 13-hour filibuster in March. Cruz, at the time of this post, is on the Senate floor vowing to speak until he can no longer stand about his effort to filibuster a House-passed spending bill that would defund Obamacare. But Cruz’s gambit will not work, because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., set up a crucial test vote for Wednesday and many Republicans are expected to vote against any attempted filibuster.

Moreover, it’s no secret that both Paul and Cruz  harbor greater political ambition, given both are rumored to be weighing bids for president in 2016. But if things go the way they’re going now, Cruz’s Canadian citizenship might not be the only roadblock to higher office for him. Grass-roots support is necessary but not sufficient for a national campaign. Financial backing and a Beltway network to build a profile often is also required.