Tough crowd.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Ted Cruz Finds Demagoguery Harder Than It Looks

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Ted Cruz is claiming that his fellow Republicans are secretly happy with the Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality and Obamacare, even though they publicly condemned them. 

Cruz doesn't give us any reason other than his say-so to believe this accusation. Why should we have faith that his denunciations are any more sincere?

But he didn't stop there. The Texas senator also recently proposed a constitutional amendment to put Supreme Court justices through popular votes every eight years.

This is a terrible idea. Not many people would cast informed votes (at present, few Americans can name as many as half the members of the current court). Retention elections would center on a handful of controversial decisions, ignoring the remainder of each justice's body of work. Money -- unconstrained by campaign-finance laws -- would be the largest factor in the outcomes. And voters, already heavily overworked by the U.S. political system, would find themselves with an extra burden of choices to make.

It's one thing to support an amendment on marriage, as Cruz also does, on the grounds that the current court has misread the Constitution. It's another to attack the basic constitutional system -- and this from a presidential candidate who claims to adhere strictly to the document.

Running for president, Cruz is discovering, is a lot harder than running for statewide office. It's hard to out-demagogue a full field of Republicans desperately trying to differentiate themselves as the True Conservative in the race. Sure, Cruz came up with an original idea for opposing the court that sanctioned gay marriage and Obamacare. But in a landscape in which Bobby Jindal, a 2016 rival, has said, "If we want to save some money, let's just get rid of the court," it's hard to believe that Cruz's convoluted mechanism for theoretically punishing justices will give him much traction.

Cruz isn't going to win the GOP nomination by monopolizing institutional conservative support (as he did in his statewide race in Texas), since the party actors have so many other options. These include candidates who engage in fewer intraparty feuds, who are less likely to stab their fellow Republicans in the back, and who have fewer strategic fiascos on their records. For what it's worth, Cruz has now fallen to eighth place in HuffPost Pollster's current national estimate of the Republican field, giving him only a tenuous hold on one of the 10 spots in the first party debate in August.

Alas, all that Ted Cruz is going to prove with his amendment idea is that it's easier to get ahead by peddling nonsense in the Senate than it is on the presidential campaign trail.

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To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at