Constitutional conservatism may not be the sexiest strain in American politics, but these three are intent on bringing it back, and are uniquely suited to do it. Lee and Cruz are both lawyers deeply versed in the Constitution, as well as talented interrogators, capable of bringing out important points through relentless and logically vigorous questioning during committee hearings. Paul, an ophthalmologist by trade, is not a lawyer. But he clearly is no intellectual slouch on these issues either — as the son of Ron Paul, he was reared on the Constitution. “Rand Paul is the heart, Mike Lee is the head, he brings the intellectual, constitutional heft, and Ted Cruz is a little bit of both,” says a conservative aide.
The trio is also bound by the fact that not one of them was the “establishment choice” in his senatorial election. That has certainly emboldened their approach to politics, as well as strengthened their credibility within the party. “It’s a little hard to tell these guys you’ve gone too far, this is too extreme, because that’s what they were just told for a year and a half when they ran for Senate, and they won,” Norquist says.
That hasn’t stopped some Republicans from criticizing them. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham both loudly criticized Paul’s filibuster and its proponents, with McCain lamenting to the Huffington Post that “it’s always the wacko birds on right and left that get the media megaphone.”
GOP aides say privately that such internal tensions are real problems, and may require “an airing out” at some point, but also acknowledge that such debates are ultimately good for the party.
Such tensions could very well come to a head as the 2014 campaign season starts to heat up. Cruz was recently named vice chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and Lee and Paul expect to play prominent roles as well. Congressional candidates have already been in touch with them about endorsements. “I very much want to find the next Ted Cruz,” Lee says, adding that he’ll be “thrilled” if several such candidates emerge in the 2014 cycle. (Both Lee and Paul were early supporters of Cruz’s underdog candidacy in 2012.)
In the meantime, the constitutionalist cadre plans to press on, confident that the American people will be receptive to their message. “My filibuster was the beginning of the fight to restore a healthy balance of powers,” Paul wrote in a Washington Postop-ed two days after his speech. “I believe the support I received this past week shows that Americans are looking for someone to really stand up and fight for them.”
“The procedural tools will vary depending on the circumstances, but I absolutely think Republicans need to continue to take strong stands to embrace liberty and defend the Constitution,” Cruz says. “We need to make that case directly to the people.”
— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.