One of the least attractive legacies of Barack Obama will be the way he empowered freshman senators to believe they were only one or two good speeches away from the presidency.
Right now, the show horses of the U.S.Senate are Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida. All are preparing for a 2016 presidential bid. All are making visits to Iowa. They're the new faces of the Republican Party.
Really, really new. The three of them have an average age of 45 and an average tenure in Washington of 1.9 years.
And all three are in the news for their efforts to get Republicans to promise not to vote to fund the government this fall unless the president cancels Obamacare.
"I think it's the dumbest idea I've ever heard," said Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, speaking on behalf of a large number of Republicans who regard the idea of shutting down the government with horror and who are never going to be mentioned in a Quinnipiac presidential poll.
Rubio, Cruz and Paul weren't the first senators to promote the shutdown idea. But they're the ones with the national names, in a party that's got a crush on crazy.
They're very different. Marco Rubio is a Cuban-American with a background in Florida politics who keeps bouncing and hedging in a desperate attempt to look like a bipartisan statesman who is — wait! wait! — also a right-wing true believer. He was a key negotiator behind the Senate immigration reform bill, which he now says he will not lobby for in the House. Ted Cruz is a Cuban-American with a background in law whose father used to tell him, "You know, Ted, you have been gifted above any man that I know, and God has destined you for greatness." Rand Paul is the libertarian son of former Rep. Ron Paul with a background in ophthalmology.
Paul and Cruz in particular tend to drive other Republican senators nuts. We probably have them to thank for the return of the pre-2008 version of John McCain, who would rather be anyplace than in a party caucus listening to Ted Cruz give a speech.
Asked by the New Republic whether he would support Rand Paul or Hillary Clinton for president, McCain laughed and said, "It's gonna be a tough choice." Actually it wouldn't. If Rand Paul got nominated for president, McCain would be the honorary national chairman of Republicans for Hillary.
The ones who aren't irate are terrified. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, is a clubhouse sort of guy, but he's trying desperately to get renominated without a right-wing primary opponent. So far, Cornyn has signed onto the letter promising to go along with the government shutdown threat, taken his name off the letter and then burrowed into the ground, where he will emerge in September, unless he sees his shadow.