Senator Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) plan to fight President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration reform during the debate over the $1.1 trillion “cromnibus” spending bill didn’t go very well. Cruz raised a point of order against the bill, arguing that the portion funding the Department of Homeland Security is unconstitutional due to the president’s action. But Cruz’s move enraged his fellow Senate Republicans, unwittingly allowed Democrats to confirm some two-dozen Obama administration nominees who otherwise would not have gotten votes, and totally failed to stop the president. The measure was voted down 74-22, with 20 Republicans joining the Democratic majority to rebuke the Texas freshman.
Although Cruz reportedly apologized to his colleagues, the episode isn’t finished yet. Cruz evidently has a plan to get revenge against those who opposed him — with a little help from his friends.
In comments to Politico on Tuesday, Senate Conservatives Fund president Ken Cuccinelli suggested that his group — with which Cruz has a close association — will target the senators who voted against him in the coming elections.
“People’s votes may by themselves inspire folks to say: ‘I’m running against this guy or this girl,’” Cuccinelli warned. “I have a funny feeling that some people who weren’t thinking of running two weeks ago are thinking of running now.”
So will the seven senators on the ballot in 2016 who opposed Cruz — Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Dan Coates (R-IN), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Mark Kirk (R-IL), John McCain (R-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Pat Toomey (R-PA) — lose their jobs for opposing the Tea Party hero?
Probably not. Under closer examination, Cuccinelli’s threat rings rather hollow.
As right-wing groups have repeatedly proven, no Republican is conservative enough to avoid a primary. No single vote would have been enough to prevent 2014 challenges to Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY), Pat Roberts (R-KS), or John Cornyn (R-TX) — the 2nd, 8th, and 13th most conservative members of the Senate, according to National Journal’s 2014 rankings — and helping Ted Cruz try to blow up a government spending bill would not have saved supposed RINOs like John McCain or Kelly Ayotte from drawing right-wing opponents.
Additionally, it’s not clear that incumbents should actually fear a challenge from the Senate Conservatives Fund. In 2014, the group backed three candidates challenging Republican incumbents: Matt Bevin in Kentucky, Chris McDaniel in Mississippi, and Milton Wolf in Kansas. All three bombed in spectacular fashion.
“Our members know that our candidates are underdogs,” an SCF spokeswoman told The Washington Post in October, in an effort to defend the group’s performance. “The establishment has a lot more money and is willing to smear conservative candidates with false attacks. But they still want us to keep fighting because otherwise we wouldn’t have people like Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul in the Senate today.”
That’s true. But it’s also a perfect explanation of why Republican senators have no reason to fear standing against Ted Cruz.
It’s entirely possible that some of the senators who opposed Cruz’s point of order will fall in 2016. But it’s extremely unlikely that last weekend’s vote will be the incident that doomed them.
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