Chris Lehmann on Ted Cruz (LRB, 18 June 2015):

Most of the Republican frontrunners are perhaps grudging converts to the gospel of failure, having at least made a show of trying and trying again. The Texas senator and Tea Party darling Ted Cruz, though, is an ardent evangelist for the sacred mission of screwing things up for ideology’s sake. His father, Rafael Cruz, who left Cuba as a young man to become an extremist endtimes preacher in Texas, raised Ted as a true believer in both the evangelical gospel and free-market fundamentalism. In the 1980s, the reverend enrolled his 13-year-old son in an after-school programme focused on the works of Milton Friedman and Ludwig von Mises. Almost alone in this year’s GOP presidential field, Cruz can claim a résumé that abounds in actual distinction: debating trophies at Princeton, a distinguished tenure as a Harvard Law student, clerking for the Supreme Court and then arguing cases before it as Texas’s solicitor general. The challenge he faces is that as a scourge of the liberal elite he must also diligently pander to every anti-intellectual, populist myth on the Tea Party right, in order to solidify his standing as an insurgent revivalist of the one true Reagan faith.

His way of resolving the contradiction has been, in Silicon Valley jargon, to go out and ‘break shit’. During his Princeton debating career, Cruz caused his team to lose a competition when an opponent from Yale (the future Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee, as it happens) went after Cruz’s favourite talking point, about how his father emigrated from Cuba with nothing more than $100 sewn into his underwear, noting that, heroic as the tale might be, it really didn’t shed much light on the subject under discussion, the growth of the federal deficit. ‘How dare you insult my father!’ was Cruz’s combative non sequitur of a reply. Every phase of Cruz’s launch into national renown has showcased this same barely repressed appetite for self-destruction. His first attention-grabbing act in office was to stage a pointless marathon filibuster against the funding of the Affordable Care Act, bringing Senate business to a day-long halt for no reason other than to show off his doctrinaire Tea Party purity over the course of a cable-news cycle. The media particularly liked the fact that his oratorical rampage included a solemn recitation of Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss – aka the rabid crypto-socialist Ted Geisel.

But this was merely practice for the main event: it was Cruz who orchestrated the self-defeating attempt to shut down the government entirely in 2013, again nominally to defund Obamacare – even though, as Cruz’s filibuster stunt made abundantly plain, the Democratic-majority Senate was never going to give in. Here was a man trained in every elite sanctum of the American meritocracy reduced to executing a Mad Max-style campaign of deliberate sabotage against the most basic operations of government. Cruz’s megalomania is so unhinged that he has alienated most of the Senate Republicans, meaning that he will never be able to get anything substantive done for his home-state constituents. The perverse thing is that this scarcely matters, since the more Cruz infuriates the DC establishment, the more he’s able to sell himself as a Tea Party saviour, giving all those know-it-alls and bagmen in Washington a bracing crash course in ideological zealotry and constitutional probity.