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Why Democrats are going after Ted Cruz
Hint: It may help them win elections
Ted Cruz speaks during the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting, May 3.
Ted Cruz speaks during the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting, May 3. Justin Sullivan/Getty Image
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reshman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) hasn't been in national politics long, but he has already become a favorite target for Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) slammed  Cruz as a "schoolyard bully" for opposing any compromise on the budget. Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Cruz, a Cuban-American, shouldn't be "defined as a Hispanic" due to his stand against immigration reform. Political experts say even President Obama's trip to Texas this week is partly aimed at tweaking Cruz and boosting Democrats on his home turf.

What is it that bothers Democrats so much about Cruz? His admirers say the liberal lions of D.C. feel threatened by Cruz and fellow upstarts Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Reid has blocked GOP senators from "offering amendments to even the most trivial legislation," says Peter Roff at U.S. News and World Report. "He has turned the world's greatest deliberative body into a legislative quagmire where almost nothing gets done and almost the only way for the Republican minority to get a point across is through a filibuster."

In this view, Cruz and the other "young Turks" are drawing fire from the Democrats because they have the temerity to fight back.

Here's more from Roff:

Not content to squabble over the crumbs Reid leaves behind, they are actually trying to insert policy alternatives into the debate, at the same time drawing important distinctions on serious policy questions.

By standing up for principle, by refusing to follow blindly the dictates of Reid and company, Cruz, Paul, Lee, and Rubio are giving the "old bulls" fits. [U.S. News]

Some analysts, however, see a more nuanced scheme behind the fireworks. "Democrats can't stand Ted Cruz," says Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo. "Except that they also kind of love him." Beutler argues that they are trying to raise the Tea Partier's profile — as they did with "unelectable GOP candidates from Sharron Angle to Christine O'Donnell to Mitt Romney's many would-be rivals" — because the greater his stature, the more his far-right views will harm the GOP nationwide.

When Reid insults him, and when he gets under Feinstein’s skin, that helps him with the GOP base. When Democratic strategist James Carville goes on national television to acknowledge Cruz’s talents and kinda-sorta suggest Democrats would be scared to run against him, we recognize that as tried-and-true but harmless ratfucking, to use the technical term. Cruz sees it as an opportunity to tout his conservative bona fides.

Everyone wins — except the rest of the GOP. [Talking Point Memo]

Shining a spotlight on controversial figures is a tested strategy in campaign years. Democrats certainly "did a pretty good job of making Todd Akin the face of the GOP in 2012," says Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog. "But Democrats only seem able to do this in presidential election years." If Democrats want to turn Cruz into the poster-child for GOP extremism in 2014, they will have to up their game.

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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