If you smell burning sulphur in Washington this week, it may be because Lucifer is back in town.
Fresh off suspending his bid for the White House where he painted Washington as corrupt and the Republican establishment as out of touch with the party’s base, Ted Cruz is now returning to the cesspool to resume his job as the Tea Party’s bomb-throwing senator.
Cruz, who former House Speaker John Boehner recently dubbed “Lucifer in the flesh,” seems to know his presence in the Capitol is going to be a little awkward for his Republican colleagues, most of whom he’s alienated in his short, four-year stint representing Texas in the upper chamber.
“Well, it is great to be back in the welcoming embrace of Washington,” Cruz quipped to the throng of reporters clamoring in the hallway outside his Senate office awaiting his first visit to his day job since throwing in the towel.
The legislative tactics Senator Cruz employed, which notably led to the government shutdown in 2013, are largely viewed as a stepping stone for his White House run.
The question that’s keeping Republican leaders up at night is, now that he’s a failed presidential candidate, will he fall in line and be a serious legislator or will he continue to use his Senate perch to gum up Congress in order to set himself up for another run in 2020?
When asked whether Cruz and Senate Republicans leaders will work more closely together now that the junior senator from Texas has proved he’s got a national following of emboldened and angry conservatives, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—who Cruz has accused of bald-faced lying—punted the question back into Cruz’s lap.
“Glad to have him back, and you ought to ask him that,” McConnell intoned.
While Cruz suspended his campaign, he hasn’t quite let go of his White House ambitions, telling reporters if a path opens for him to win the GOP nomination, then he’s ready to jump right back into the race.
“If circumstances change, we will always assess changed circumstances…but you may have to wait a little bit longer,” Cruz said, leaving the door wide open for another presidential bid in 2020.
In the presidential contest Cruz only garnered two endorsements from his Republican Senate colleagues (four others switched their support to him after their first choice ingloriously dropped out).
You could tell he wasn’t eager to rejoin his beleaguered party in Washington, because on his first day back in town he skipped the weekly Tuesday lunchtime meeting of Republican senators.
That may be because he’s planning to storm the Capitol once again.
“This election cycle should be a wakeup call to Washington, D.C. The frustration, the volcanic anger with Washington echoed throughout this election,” Cruz said as his right hand waved about, confidently lecturing the press corps, while his left hand rested nervously in his pocket. “I’m going to continue fighting for the American people, and if fighting for the American people makes you an outsider in the Senate, than I will happily remain an outsider.”
(In fairness, he may not have much of a choice. )
Like House Speaker Paul Ryan, Cruz has withheld his endorsement from the party’s presumed presidential nominee, Donald Trump, which the real estate magnate is going to try to change when he visits Republican Party leaders on Capitol Hill Thursday. Cruz and Trump have not scheduled a meeting, partly because Cruz remains bitter at Trump’s numerous character attacks on him and his family, including Trump’s stinging accusation that Cruz’s dad colluded with JFK’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.
The irony of the simmering Trump/ Cruz feud is that, in many ways, Cruz disrupted the staid Senate much like Trump has disrupted the GOP primary process.
While in recent weeks Cruz tried to paint himself as the sane guy in the room, in Congress he’s laughed at for being the upstart who read Green Eggs and Ham on the Senate floor while trying to make Mitch McConnell’s life hell. Cruz has used bombastic tactics that the Republican establishment has written off as mere Trump-esqe temper tantrums.
Republicans may vent about Cruz in private, but, much like Cruz’s own quiet support for Trump in the early days of the primary, they won’t dare tell him to get in line publicly. In fact, Cruz drafted behind Trump for much of the early campaign, hoping that if Trump flamed out his fans would migrate to the Texan’s campaign.
It didn’t work.
So back he went and his colleagues are resigned to more the same old Cruz.
“Ted came here, he honored his commitments to the people of Texas to be an aggressive advocate; he’s done that through the campaign,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who is a vocal Trump supporter. “You can’t help but gain a great deal of insight and wisdom in a campaign, so I’m sure he’ll be somewhat different but I’m totally convinced he’ll be fundamentally the same Ted Cruz we saw before.”
Sessions then noted there’s little incentive for Cruz to reinvent himself because “he came in second out of 17 [candidates].” Other Republicans are also sticking to the rule of never speaking ill of a colleague.
“I’ve never had any trouble with Cruz, so I don’t have any advice for Cruz. Let Cruz be Cruz,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).
When pressed by The Daily Beast on whether Cruz is a good addition to the Senate, he demurred. “That’d be like me telling the people of Texas they don’t know who they should I elect. I don’t want people in Texas telling Iowans who they should elect, so I wouldn’t go down that road.”
Other senior Republicans are hoping that a wiser Cruz is coming back to Washington than the one who left his Senate duties behind to hit the presidential pavement.
“I think he comes back in, maybe, a spirit of a little more cooperation than he has in the past, because a lot of his not getting along was the fact that he was running for president,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) told The Daily Beast. “So who knows. He may decide he enjoys it around here.”
But it doesn’t seem the Cruz brand will ever be able to enjoy Washington (even if the senator secretly loves his congressional digs).
“I’m very glad to be back in the Senate, and I’m very glad to be rolling up my sleeves and tackling the issues that were the heart of our presidential campaign,” Cruz said while wearing a freshly pressed, dare I say very Washington establishment, suit and tie on Tuesday. “For me what is important is that the movement continues. This movement from the people, this battle is about a lot more than one election cycle or one candidate.”