We've seen this movie before. An extremist Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate outflanks a conservative Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate and wins the primary, promising to join the Tea Party Senate Caucus (Jim DeMint, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio) when he gets to Washington.
Utah Senator Mike Lee knocked off incumbent Bob Bennett, Richard Mourdock easily defeated Dick Lugar in Indiana, Rand Paul upset Republican establishment candidate Trey Grayson in Kentucky. In today's Republican Party, depicting a conservative as a compromising moderate unfit to hold public office always works, unless the candidate is so batshit that the Republican primary is the final triumph in her political career (Christine O'Donnell in Delaware.)
These campaigns that defy political convention, and involve out-of-state party extremists investing huge amounts of money in a candidate, have come to define political convention.
Yet who would have predicted that Tea Party candidate Ted Cruz would be on the verge of taking out Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst.
Dewhurst is the Republican from central casting. Tall, handsome, a former Air Force officer and CIA agent who became fabulously rich as a Houston business man, Rick Perry's lieutenant in the Texas Senate, fluent in Spanish, married with a family, etc. And loyal. To implement the Republican party's hard-right legislative agenda, Dewhurst even suspended the Texas Senate's hallowed two-thirds rule, which requires two-thirds of the body to vote to bring a bill to the floor.
How do you top that?
Cruz, the state's former solicitor general, has done it. With narrative. His father fled Cuban tyranny and arrived in the U.S. with $100 sewn into his underwear. (Okay, the senior Cruz fought alongside of Fidel Castro's insurgents, but that's a small detail.) Ted Cruz was a high school debate champion, won scholarships to Princeton and Harvard Law School, clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and as solicitor general successfully defended the state's constitutional right to display the Ten Commandments on the Capitol Grounds, the last opinion Rehnquist handed down before his death.
Cruz has memorized the entire U.S. Constitution, routinely invokes the memory of Ronald Reagan, and refers to President Obama as an "out of touch socialist."
And Cruz has raised more money than Dewhurst, much if it coming from out-of-state Tea Party groups: $7.9 million to $7.78 million. (Dewhurst has loaned his campaign $24.5 million.)
These teabagger campaigns work best when the opponent has a record, which is always a liability because at some point it had to involve taxes, compromising with Democrats, and in Dewhurst's case immigration.
Cruz has depicted Dewhurst as a moderate squish, actually running ads disparaging him as a moderate, because on occasion as presiding officer in the Senate, Dewhurst worked with the Democratic minority.
Cruz has attacked Dewhurst for raising taxes, when Dewhurst was only following Governor Rick Perry's orders to pass a business margins tax that would lower property taxes—which left the state with a structural budget deficit of $27 billion.
And Cruz has Dewhurst cornered on immigration, hanging around his neck a speech he made in Laredo in 2007.
"We need a human presence at the border and a humane presence at the border," Dewhurst said. "I support secure borders both north and south and I support a guest worker program for those here today illegally. Labor and skilled workers are critical to our Texas economy."
Dewhurst has since pulled the speech from the Lieutenant Governor's web page and is attacking Cruz for serving on boards of Hispanic organizations that are soft on immigration.
Rick Perry is supporting Dewhurst. Grover Norquist is supporting Cruz. Paul Saddler, who mastered the arcane details of education finance when he served in the state legislature, is in the Democratic runoff for the U.S. Senate but has raised less than $50,000 and won't be competitive in November.
No matter which Republican wins, the public loses. Immigrants are excoriated, reasonable immigration policy demonized, the concept of taxation denounced, and the diminished possibility of compromise in a deadlocked Congress further diminished.
Don't Tread on Me and all that. The Tea Party vision of America, the metastasis of Texas politics and political economy.
Voting begins today and ends July 31.