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“You inspire me.”

Those tender words were spoken to Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) on the Senate floor last week, the same Ted Cruz who jabbered for more than 21 straight hours, infuriating leaders of his own party and edifying his national image as an egomaniacal crackpot.

Nobody outside of Texas likes Cruz except the Tea Party troglodytes to whom he panders.

“You inspire me,” the buffoon cooed to Rubio, a future foe in the 2016 race for the White House.

At which moment Democratic campaign strategists surely fell to their knees whispering, “Thank you, God. This is too good to be true.”

The Cruz-Rubio bromance played out on C-SPAN in the wee morning hours last Wednesday during Cruz’s marathon tirade against Obamacare. Florida’s junior senator popped up like a blow-dried gopher to speak for almost an hour and give Cruz a break.

Rubio’s appearance was another calculated suck-up to the right-wingers who scorned him during the immigration debate. Days earlier he had backstabbed Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas, a gay African-American, by abruptly withdrawing his support for Thomas’ nomination to the federal bench.

Rubio claimed he’d changed his mind about Thomas’ “fitness” because of concerns about the handling of a DUI case and a rape case — though even the prosecutor in the rape case said the judge had followed the rules. (Rubio’s vast credentials in criminal trial procedure consist of an unused law degree).

By aligning himself with Cruz, whose self-styled filibuster epitomizes the partisan paralysis in Washington, Rubio further diminished himself in the eyes of moderate Republicans who yearn for a fresh and principled voice.

Ironically, the potential rival who benefits most from Rubio’s naked groveling is his mentor, Jeb Bush. Although he hasn’t announced whether or not he’s running in 2016, Bush is smart enough to watch the unfolding Republican train wreck and know that none of the current lightweights has a chance of beating Hillary Clinton.

The batty Cruz is being seriously discussed as a frontrunner based on his hijacking the Senate floor and saying, among other things, that accepting Obamacare — a law passed by Congress — is tantamount to placating the Nazis in Germany.

In another burst of bloated vanity, Cruz compared his mission to defund healthcare reform with John F. Kennedy’s vow to put a man on the moon. Having plenty of time to kill, Cruz also read to his kids from a Dr. Seuss book.

It was the only memorable thing to come out of his mouth in 1,279 minutes.

The purported point of his theatrics was to show support for House Republicans who want to shut down the federal government if funding for the Affordable Care Act isn’t stripped from the budget.

Of course, the law will never be defunded because there aren’t enough votes in the Senate to do it, not even close.

The arithmetic is basic enough for a first-grader to sort out. So are the public-opinion polls.

While most Americans remain apprehensive about Obamacare, the president’s tepid approval ratings still dwarf the contemptuously low numbers racked up by Congress.

The most recent New York Times/CBS News survey shows that nearly 75 percent of those polled disapprove of congressional Republicans, and more than half say Obama is more likely to make better decisions about the economy, the deficit and healthcare.

Almost 90 percent are frustrated at the possibility of a government shutdown, two-thirds say they or their families would be negatively affected, and 8 in 10 believe it’s unacceptable for either the president or Congress to pitch the country into fiscal default over a political squabble.

That’s why Cruz’s diarrheal opera got no love from senior Republicans such as John McCain, Tom Coburn and even diehard obstructionist Mitch McConnell.

They know their party will get blamed if the government is shut down. Even the GOP’s cunning prince of darkness, Karl Rove, warns that the House strategy is self-destructive.

Mitt Romney railed tirelessly against Obamacare and got his butt handed to him in the last election, while Republicans wound up losing seats in Congress. What did they learn from that? Nothing.

Democrats must be quietly elated to see a guy like Rubio, once feared as the bright new face of the opposition, swooning over a reactionary gasbag like Cruz.

Hillary can just sit back and watch.

The campaign commercials keep writing themselves. “You inspire me,” sayeth the gasbag from Texas to the suck-up artist from Florida.

What next, Marco? A twerking video with Sarah Palin?

(Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132.)

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.com

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