Ted Cruz Is Calling Time-Out on His Role at NRSC—For Now

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The Texas Republican wants to steer clear of primaries.

photo by: Bob Daemmrich
photo by: Bob Daemmrich

Senate Republican leaders can avoid awkward small talk with Ted Cruz at fundraisers for GOP incumbents this primary season. Generally speaking, he won’t be there.

The way Cruz sees it, there’s just no way he can, in good conscience, get involved in Senate Republican primaries. To get involved is to side with incumbents, and to side with incumbents is to back Washington’s elite. It could anoint electable candidates, but not always the most conservative ones.

“If it were up to Washington insiders, Charlie Crist would be in the U.S. Senate instead of Marco Rubio,” Cruz said.

“If it were up to Washington insiders, Arlen Specter would be in the U.S. Senate instead of Pat Toomey. Rand Paul wouldn’t be here. Mike Lee wouldn’t be here.”

As Republicans fight to capture control of the chamber in November, Cruz is emerging—again—as a voice of dissent in his party, boldly renewing objections to the GOP’s involvement in primaries and saying he won’t facilitate such efforts.

This time GOP leaders are hesitant to criticize him, suggesting both how Cruz has lassoed the conservative tea-party wing of his party and how much influence—if not outright leverage—that segment could exert in the election.

Cruz’s approach might be excused, given his politics, except that the Texas Republican serves as the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s vice chairman for grassroots outreach. On the NRSC website, his mug shot floats alongside those of Chairman Jerry Moran of Kansas and Vice Chairman Rob Portman of Ohio.

But a united triumvirate, this is not.

In their effort to win a majority in the Senate, establishment Republicans are focused on reelecting longtime members such as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Pat Roberts of Kansas, and Thad Cochran of Mississippi, all of whom face primary challenges. Cruz’s decision not to endorse in primaries matters because his backing would carry significant tea-party heft.

“The goal and the reality is that when he started, he had just come through a campaign in which the grassroots—the tea-party aspect of the Republican Party—had been involved in his campaign,” Moran said. “We wanted his expertise and advice as to how we function as a broad party designed to win elections, and that’s what he’s provided.”

But Cruz is cutting that expertise off, at least for now.

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