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Cruz Picks Up the Talking Stick, but Will It Work?

Like Fort Worth Democrat Wendy Davis before him, Texas Republican Ted Cruz has discovered the political power of a well-timed, long-winded and highly publicized monologue. And like Davis, he's getting some blowback.

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This talking trick apparently works more than once.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is getting a big bounce from talking for 21 hours about his problems with Obamacare, just as state Sen. Wendy Davis got a boost from her June filibuster on abortion and women’s health.

Davis is riding her bottle rocket into the governor’s race. The short-form analysis of her leap into the spotlight is that it delighted the Democrats on her side and left Republicans seething, both at her and, to a lesser extent, at the leaders who turned on that spotlight in the first place.

For Cruz, the analysis is a little more nuanced, mainly because the Republican Party is a little more nuanced right now. He delighted the people who chose him in 2012 over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst — the rowdies who dominated that Republican primary and especially the July runoff. The populist wing of the party seems to like Cruz as much as it hates Washington. But “Washington” in this context comprises both Republicans and Democrats, and those guys are chafing at the new guy’s ability to command attention and hijack the debate.

That’s why journalists find it relatively easy to find establishment Republicans ready to cut Cruz down to size. Both sides of this argument have some real talent, and it would be silly to try to handicap the outcome — in Washington.

It’s easier here. Populists toss candidates into office for the same reasons teenagers egg houses — to make a point, to mess things up, to express frustration and dissatisfaction. And to have fun making the people with starched clothes angry.

They might get tired of the state’s junior senator eventually, but not yet. The fact that the establishment dislikes his tactics and is so vocal about it, and that the media is tracking that disdain so closely — all of that works for him.

He might be in real political trouble when this is all over, but it could work the other way, too: Everybody else might be in real trouble.

The next five months will provide some clues. The Republican races at the top of the Texas ballot are crowded and competitive. Money is being invested in polling, giving those candidates a better look into what works and what doesn’t work than the rest of us have available. The advertising will follow soon, and from those messages and dozens of town halls and interviews and news stories, voters will be able to see what the pros think of the current environment.

If you see a lot of smart people acting like Cruz between now and March, you’ll have a pretty good indication that what he’s doing right now is working.

Dewhurst got “Cruzed” last year — the voguish term for what happens to a traditional Republican when a populist conservative runs to their political right and inveighs against the traditionalists. Variations on that strategy are already showing up this year, including in the lieutenant governor’s race that features Dewhurst and three other current Republican officeholders.

If Cruz is turning voters off, that will be apparent right away, too. Candidates will run away from what he’s doing.

If that happens, getting “Cruzed” could mean something else entirely.  

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Politics David Dewhurst Federal health reform Ted Cruz Wendy Davis Women's Health Program