It’s been suggested that in opposing President Donald Trump, Democrats should pursue tactics similar to those of the Tea Party movement. This is a strange idea, given the fate many leading voices in that movement. Prominent Tea Party politicians like Ron Paul (the movement’s so-called “intellectual godfather”), Rand Paul, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann have been relegated to various stages of irrelevancy. Meanwhile, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, the movement’s latter-day saints, have been converted to the cult of Donald Trump.
It’s worth examining Cruz’s transformation closely, both because he represents Texas and because he and the president share a particularly colorful history. At first they enjoyed a relationship of mutual benefit: Cruz embraced Trump during the early months of the GOP primary campaign. Then the field narrowed, and they became bitter enemies. Trump shared an unflattering photo of Cruz’s wife and accused his father of involvement in the Kennedy assassination. Cruz called Trump a “sniveling coward,” a “pathological liar,” “utterly amoral” and a “serial philanderer.”
After Trump secured the nomination, Cruz pointedly refused to endorse him at the Republican National Convention. Then, when it became clear that Trump’s campaign was not going to fail miserably, Cruz reversed course and endorsed him after all.
Now that his former rival is president, the Texas senator is aspiring to new heights of spinelessness. Enthusiastically backing Trump’s ban on refugees entering the United States, Cruz blamed “hysteria and mistruths being pushed by the liberal media” for the widespread backlash, calling the ban “a commonsense step that the American people overwhelmingly support.” Cruz has also fawned over Trump’s nominees to the cabinet and the Supreme Court, commended Trump for firing acting Attorney General Sally Yates, and accused Democrats of suffering from “Trump Derangement Syndrome.”
If only Cruz’s cowardice made him unique among Texas politicians. Rep. Lamar Smith of the 21st Congressional District, which covers parts of Austin including West Campus, gave a bizarre speech on the floor of the House of Representatives last Tuesday in which he praised the president’s “tremendous energy” and compared him to Teddy Roosevelt. Smith also declared that it was “better to get your news directly from the president,” adding, “it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.”
Somehow, the leaders of a movement dedicated to electing principled, small-government conservatives have all bent the knee to Donald Trump, a man who is none of those things. Where did the Tea Party go wrong? Simply put, it failed to understand the difference between effective resistance and meaningless theatrics. Americans got sick of all the grandstanding and gridlock, so when 2016 came around, they elected someone who ostensibly aspired to end it.
Democrats can ill afford to make the same mistake. There’s nothing wrong with mass protests, nor with obstruction of Trump’s bad decisions and dangerously unqualified nominees. And since Trump himself is dangerously unqualified, there will be a lot of necessary obstruction. But don’t confuse that with the Tea Party’s
unnecessary obstruction. As the opposition party, Democrats can and must present a unified, coherent and appealing alternative to the unhinged lunacy of Donald Trump’s Republican Party — and not just a stone wall.
Groves is government sophomore from Dallas. Follow him on Twitter @SamGroves