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March 07, 2014 3:43 PM The New Cruz

By Ed Kilgore

Between Abby Rapoport, John Fund, yours truly, and now (at TNR) Jason Zengerle, I’d say the election-night CW of Tuesday’s primary in Texas being a debacle for the Tea Party has been pretty thoroughly overthrown.

We all made a lot of the same arguments, but what Zengerle distinctively brings to the table is a vivid account of what it means that gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott has now totally replaced David Dewhurst as the rising star of Texas Republican politics in just over a couple of years. Dewhurst, you may recall, got croaked by Ted Cruz in a 2012 Senate primary the Lieutenant Governor was heavily expected to win, and then on Tuesday he finished a poor second for re-election against a raving “movement conservative” who will likely finish him off in a May runoff.

Abbott is another matter altogether:

As Texas’s attorney general, Abbott pioneered the strategy—later copied by other ambitious Republican state AG’s, like Virginia’s Ken Cuccinelli and Florida’s Pam Bondi—of waging a litigious war against the Obama administration on everything from environmental regulations to Obamacare. “I go into the office in the morning, I sue Barack Obama, and then I go home,” Abbott has boasted. But even before Obama got to the White House, Abbott was an unusually aggressive state attorney general. “When General Abbott first came into office in 2003,” says James Ho, who served as Texas solicitor general under Abbott, “he was determined to look for every possible opportunity to promote conservative legal principles in every forum possible.”
In fact, that’s why, in 2005, Abbott hired a hotshot young Harvard Law grad and Federalist Society member named Ted Cruz to be Texas’s solicitor general. Seven years later, when Cruz ran for the U.S. Senate, it was the politically charged cases he’d argued on Texas’s behalf that formed the backbone of his campaign. “Cruz ran on a record that was also Abbott’s record,” notes Texas Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak.

So we can thank Abbott for Cruz being in a position to run for the Senate. Yet assuming he wins in November against Wendy Davis (a very good bet at present), Abbott could rival Cruz as a right-wing celebrity, if only because his own personal saga—he’s a paraplegic from an injury he suffered while in law school—probably trumps Cruz’s immigrant roots as a biographical “story,” and also helps insulate him from the kind of bully-boy image harsh right-wing ideology tends to create.

Meanwhile, the Texas Republican Party of George W. Bush and Rick Perry continues its steady march to the right.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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