In recent weeks, some liberal commentators have taken to calling Ted Cruz a demagogue. They concede the freshman Republican senator from Texas is smart as hell. He's an impressive speaker. An imposing debater. For those reasons, many liberals see Cruz as dangerous, pointing especially to his campaign for a completely unworkable proposal to defund Obamacare.
So here's a question for those liberals: Since when is putting extraordinary rhetorical skills at the service of unworkable proposals a problem?
The idea that the government could spur economic recovery by creating millions of mythical "green jobs" was clearly unworkable, and yet in 2008 presidential candidate Barack Obama made it a major part of his agenda.
The idea that the government could pay for health coverage for millions of uninsured Americans and save money at the same time was clearly unworkable, and yet Obama adopted that, too.
The idea that a president could somehow "restore" America's standing in the world by sitting down to talk with the planet's worst actors was also clearly unworkable, and yet Obama pushed that one, too.
Obama used his considerable communications skills to ride his unworkable ideas all the way to the White House. Perhaps some liberals worry that Cruz could be a formidable candidate, too.
Truth be told, some moderate Republicans agree with the liberal critique of Cruz, although most don't want to say so for public consumption. They worry that the new senator is using his talents to stir up the GOP base for lost causes -- defunding Obamacare is Exhibit A -- that could ensure Republican defeat for years to come.
But it's possible that what worries them most is Cruz's sheer talent. Anyone who watched his performance this week at the Heritage Action Defund Obamacare town hall in Dallas would concede that Cruz is able to take a wrongheaded proposal and make an absolutely compelling argument for it.
It's not easy. Acknowledging that Republicans don't have the votes to defund the president's health care law, Cruz essentially seeks to create a wave of public outrage that would force Congress to go along with the small number of Republicans behind the defunding initiative. If that doesn't work, Cruz proposes to "win the argument" by persuading the public to blame President Obama for any government shutdown that results.
It's not going to happen. But for a moment evaluate Cruz by Obama 2008 standards. No matter the quality of his ideas, the man can perform.
Cruz based his case on Obama's recent decision to postpone enforcement of the employer mandate. "President Obama has already unilaterally and lawlessly granted waivers from the employer mandate of Obamacare to every giant corporation in America," Cruz said. "Why is it that the president is threatening to shut down the federal government to deny those very same waivers to hard-working American families?"
It's not a bad question. Big business complained about Obamacare, and Obama listened. Regular citizens -- not so much.
Cruz was interrupted three times by hecklers. Each time he treated them with respect and equanimity. At the same time, he worked the crowd into an Obama-like lather.
"Can we restore the United States Constitution?"
"Yes, we can!"
"Can we bring back jobs?"
"Yes, we can!"
"Can we stop the IRS?"
"Yes, we can!"
"Can we defund Obamacare?"
"Yes, we can!"
Of course defunding Obamacare could lead to a standoff with the president, Cruz warned. "And if you have an impasse, one side or the other has to blink. How do we win this fight?" A brief pause, and then: "Don't blink!"
He made it all sound enormously simple.
Perhaps some liberals worry that a candidate Cruz might be able to mesmerize crowds with bad ideas. It's certainly happened before. In August 2008, for example, as Obama stood in front of a fake colonnade in Denver's INVESCO Field, a virtually hypnotized audience chanted "O-BA-MA, O-BA-MA, O-BA-MA." What did it matter whether his ideas would work?
So perhaps now the Obama chanters should ease off on their complaints about Cruz.
Of course, Republicans shouldn't want a candidate to argue bad ideas brilliantly. They should want a candidate to argue good ideas brilliantly. Cruz is off-base about defunding, but that doesn't mean he could not be an astonishingly effective advocate for good Republican ideas in the future.
Cruz is making his first trip to New Hampshire Friday in what appears to be an accelerating effort to prepare for a possible presidential run. He's already wowed Republican audiences during two visits to Iowa. If he does run, it's possible he could blow crowds away with Obama-like force. No wonder there are some worried people out there.
Byron York, The Washington Examiner's chief political correspondent, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday on washingtonexaminer.com.