Ted Cruz has been a bad boy, and deserves a good spanking. That's the message his colleagues in the Senate, particularly his Republican colleagues, have been sending to him. They just couldn't find anyone big enough to deliver the spanking, and now they never can.
His marathon speech — argument persists over whether it was a filibuster or merely filibluster — has established him as a force of nature in Washington, a star in a way that other senators only dream of. "The Cruz performance was great political theater," says John Podhoretz of The New York Post. "If there had been any question before Tuesday about what a formidable presence he is going to be in Washington and in the Republican Party going forward, it has been laid to rest."
What, after all, is politics about but theater? Who ever succeeded in politics but an actor? Some actors are just better at it than others. The Cruz phenomenon naturally irritates the senators who are content to be mere ushers in the theater, and never summon the courage to perform on the big stage. Or maybe it's the circus, with a high wire above the clowns and no net. Once upon a time, and not so long ago, freshmen senators were like the small children in the orderly homes of the stuffy and the high-bred, to be seen but never heard. A freshman senator often waited a full year before making his maiden speech to the Senate, like a debutante waiting patiently to be presented to Society, ready for auction.
But the fresh crop of newcomers — Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas — are children of the new age — noisy, rambunctious, impatient and impenitent, even. They're not coming to town to carve out a sinecure, to be carried out feet first a quarter of a century later leaving no impression but the shape of their ample bottoms in an easy chair. They're neither impressed by the ritual of "the world's oldest deliberative body," nor respectful of the ivy-encrusted tradition that binds it to the past. They're contemptuous of all that. For better or worse, they're coming only to do a job.
This same spunk and spirit spills over on to the freshmen class in the House, too. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, like Mr. Cruz a graduate of Harvard who escaped with the education without drowning in the left-wing moonshine, made his first House speeches before he even arrived in Washington to be sworn in, and announced before his first term was half over that he was already running to take a Senate seat away from the go-along-to-get-along incumbent Democrat next year.
Mr. Cruz sees things others don't; some call this vision, others call it merely seeing visions, plural. He frightens those hanging on to the old order, and not just in the Senate. Rep. Peter T. King of New York, an old-order Republican, is so angry that he splutters into semi-coherence. One minute he calls the Texas senator "a kamikaze pilot" and the next he puts him on a horse riding with the "Charge of the Light Brigade." Or he's "a medicine man selling goods that he knows are phony goods."
Spluttering or not, he speaks for many in the Capitol Hill precinct (where Republicans and other conservatives never run well). "He's not standing on principle," Mr. King tells CNN. "I don't know what he's standing on. But he's standing for a strategy that can't work. It's going to personally help him as far as his political status, but it's going to be bad for the country, bad for the Republican Party. I've never seen anyone as unpopular in Republican circles as Ted Cruz."
Who can doubt it? There are Republican circles, and there are Republican circles. They rarely overlap. Mr. King's office was deluged with calls and email the minute Ted Cruz stepped away from the Senate floor after 21 hours, eager to make the men's room his first stop. No one could get through by email or telephone to Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, for hours. Sen. John McCain, who tweeted that he was watching a television sitcom, was inaccessible, his voicemail box full.
Obamacare is safe in the Senate. The blister and bluster has not changed a single vote. In the House, the struggle turns to President Obama's demand for another increase in the national debt. Speaker John A. Boehner and his not-so-merry men have an itemized list of what House approval will cost. The list includes a year's delay in implementing Obamacare, construction of the Keystone pipeline, energy exploration on government lands, limits on medical malpractice and other things. If there's a chance to get any of them, Ted Cruz's grit and sand shows the way.
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.