Barring an epic stumble at the polls Tuesday, Republicans will return to Washington next year with a majority in the Senate for the first time since 2006. After eight years in the minority, they will again hold sway over the rhythm and pace of activity in the upper chamber, with near total control of what gets debated and voted on and when.
Sen. Ted Cruz, the feisty Texas Republican who spent more than 21 consecutive hours on the Senate floor railing against Obamacare in September 2013, has only been in Congress for four years, so this will be his first taste of real legislative clout.
And that has some of his colleagues really, really nervous.
Here's why: With limited power, comes diminished responsibility. A blustery Texas senator in the minority could, for instance, prattle on for 21 hours and 19 minutes about the evils of Obamacare and have it be treated for what it was — an entertaining but meaningless sideshow.
But that's about to change. Kentucky's shrewd but mild Sen. Mitch McConnell is set to take over as majority leader. If McConnell wants to keep the job for more than a couple years, he is going to need discipline — and results — from his charges.
He's going to need help from guys like Cruz.
But as we learned in a Washington Post interview this past weekend, getting McConnell's back doesn't appear very high on Cruz's to-do list.
What did rank was taking a page from House Republicans and putting the screws to President Barack Obama and his administration:
Piggybacking on what House leaders have done, Cruz said the first order of business should be a series of hearings on President Obama, "looking at the abuse of power, the executive abuse, the regulatory abuse, the lawlessness that sadly has pervaded this administration."
After that opening salvo of investigative activity comes Obamacare, he told the Washington Post. Leaders in the GOP-controlled House voted to repeal all or part of the health care reform law on more than 50 occasions over the past four years. But Democrats running the Senate never brought them to the floor for consideration.
But that's going to change if Cruz has his way.
Republicans should "pursue every means possible to repeal Obamacare," Cruz said, including forcing a vote through parliamentary procedures that would get around a possible filibuster by Democrats.
Which they very well could do. But what happens when Obama, as he inevitably will, simply vetoes those measures?
If that leads to a veto by Obama, Cruz said, Republicans should then vote on provisions of the health law "one at a time."
Fun, sure, but certainly doomed.
Perhaps some legislative maneuvering — McConnell knows how to do that! — that gets Democrats in his corner and paints Obama into one of his own?
He favors direct political combat. That way, either the president gives in, or, Cruz said, "you have clear accountability. It becomes transparent to everyone that it is the Democrats blocking meaningful progress."
But what also becomes clear, going through Cruz's comments, is that he doesn't see Democrats as his biggest obstacle. The conversation, as it inevitably does, turns to the senator's future plans. Will he run for president and what does he think of the current frontrunners?
Of Jeb Bush, for instance, Cruz said he likes and respects him, "but I think we have seen election after election that when Republicans fail to draw a clear distinction with the Democrats, when we run to the mushy middle, we lose."
"At some point," Cruz continued, "after Gerald Ford and Bob Dole and John McCain and Mitt Romney .?.?. we shouldn't keep making the same mistakes over and over again."
One of the reasons Republicans have lost elections recently is that we have failed to engage in a meaningful way on the great issues of the day," Cruz said. "We've played a prevent defense. You don't win elections that way."
And he's right, to a certain extent. One way to lose elections is to run candidates who do not hold or cannot affect the possession of strong political principles. But it's not the only one. Failure to enact meaningful legislation grates on voters, who as we will see by day's end, do not have much sympathy for a majority party who can't get things done.
Come January, Cruz won't have the all-powerful Democrats to kick around anymore. The stage and the power will belong to him. If he doesn't figure out to use it for more than a stirring speech, his fellow Republicans will pay the price.