Ted Cruz’s victory in Tuesday’s Texas Republican runoff for the U.S. Senate nomination is the most impressive triumph yet for the still-strengthening Tea Party impulse. And Cruz’s victory coincides with something conservatives should celebrate, the centennial of the 20th century’s most important intra-party struggle. By preventing former President Theodore Roosevelt from capturing the 1912 Republican presidential nomination from President William Howard Taft, the GOP deliberately doomed its chances for holding the presidency but kept its commitment to the Constitution.
As the Hudson Institute’s William Schambra says (in “The Saviors of the Constitution,” National Affairs, Winter 2012, and elsewhere), by their “lonely, principled” stand, New York Sen. Elihu Root and Massachusetts Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, both close to TR, along with Taft, “denied TR the powerful electoral machinery of the Republican Party, which would almost surely have elected him, and then been turned to securing sweeping alterations” of the Constitution. Democrat Woodrow Wilson won with 41.8 percent of the vote (to TR’s 27.4 percent). Taft won 23.2 percent, carrying only Vermont and Utah, but achieved something far grander than a second term — the preservation of the GOP as an intellectual counterbalance to the Democrats’ thorough embrace of progressivism and the “living” — actually, disappearing — Constitution.
Today, many of the Tea Party’s academic despisers portray it as anti-democratic and anti-intellectual. Actually, it stands, as the forgotten heroes of 1912 did, with Madison, the most intellectually formidable Founder. He created, and the Tea Party defends, a constitutional architecture that does not thwart democracy but refines it, on the fact that in a republic, which is defined by the principle of representation, the people do not directly decide issues, they decide who will decide. And the things representatives are permitted to decide are strictly circumscribed by constitutional limits on federal power.
When Cruz comes to the Senate, he and like-minded Republicans can honor two exemplary senatorial predecessors by forming the small but distinguished Root-Lodge Caucus.