Ted Cruz Credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Ted Cruz was first out of the gate among the Republican presidential contenders insisting that President Obama should keep his hands off the nomination of Antonin Scalia’s successor. “Justice Scalia was an American hero,” Cruz tweeted, when the news of Scalia’s death was an hour old. “We owe it to him, & the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement.”

But who can fill Scalia’s shoes to Cruz’s satisfaction? The first name to come to mind—my mind, at least, if no one else’s—was Cruz himself. For as John Kass wrote last fall, “Ted Cruz is a smart man, hated of course by liberal newspeople, and I’ve always thought he might best serve his nation on the Supreme Court.” Like Scalia—and Kass, for that manner—Cruz has a way of insulting the people he works with that would place him firmly in the Scalia tradition. 

Consider Scalia’s dissent to last year’s Supreme Court ruling that allowed gay marriage. Disparaging the court that made the call as a “select, patrician, highly unrepresentative panel of nine,” Scalia sneered at Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion for its “straining-to-be-memorable passages” and “showy profundities,” and parts that were simply “profoundly incoherent.” If he’d written Kennedy’s opening, declared Scalia, “I would hide my head in a bag.”

Cruz can’t match Scalia’s rhetorical flourishes, but he can more than keep up in making clear his contempt. For instance, last year the Texas senator called Mitch McConnell, his own majority leader, a liar. “Mr. Cruz is so unpopular,” the New York Times observed, “that at one point not a single Republican senator would support his demand for a roll-call vote, known as a sufficient second, leaving Mr. Cruz standing on the Senate floor like a man with bird flu, everyone scattering to avoid him.” 

Scalia would have been a more influential justice, pundits have observed, if he’d been more political, forming coalitions and seeking middle ground. Instead, he blithely went his own way, letting the chips fall where they may. Like many people with strong opinions, he seemed to prefer bright opponents to mediocre allies: he’s famous for his friendship with liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and David Axelrod tells us he proposed Elena Kagan for the Court long before Obama nominated her. Just as headstrong but without the charm, Cruz has no apparent gift for friendship with anybody, friend or foe. In the tiny Supreme Court, where it’s impossible to simply ignore someone you despise, Cruz might have a galvanizing effect. By turning everyone against him, he could usher in a new progressive era enshrined by a series of 8 to 1 decisions in favor of whatever he doesn’t like.

Even so, President Obama isn’t likely to nominate Cruz. But his primary opponents have just been handed a golden opportunity to stick it to him. I can easily imagine Donald Trump saying this: “I like Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz is a serious, thoughtful guy. He has no business running for president because he couldn’t manage a snow cone stand. But I’ll say this. When I’m president and I fill this Supreme Court opening I’m going to be looking only at top people—the very top people—and Ted Cruz will be right up there at the top of my list.”

Cruz won’t believe a word of it, and neither will anyone else, but what’s he going to say? There’s been way too much common insult in this Republican race and too little advanced derision. It’s time to pick up the pace.