So I was surfing cable TV the other night, when perchance I spied a screen logo that sent me into a tailspin: "Road to the White House." There it was, on C-SPAN. Yes, folks, we're only seven months removed from the 2012 election, but I guess it's game on for 2016.

Friday night's "Road to the White House" set the record for earliest episode ever, but it's probably not worth ruminating about how insane that is. To paraphrase David Axelrod, this is how we roll. The next crop of White House wannabes are jockeying already - as most vividly evidenced by Ted Cruz, the tea-partying Senate freshman from Texas whose rightward demagoguery conjures memories of Joe McCarthy.

It was Cruz who prompted C-SPAN to retool the old logo for 2016, because on Friday night he had the coveted speaking slot at South Carolina's Silver Elephant Dinner. Ever since the era of Ronald Reagan, this GOP dinner - in a state that typically makes or breaks Republican candidates - has been a first step on the long primary trail. And Cruz's dinner gig capped three days of buzz. The buzz was triggered by a National Review story - a trial balloon about Cruz's aspirations, floated by his "friends and confidants." Cruz himself characterized the buzz as "wild speculation," a Washington dodge akin to a non-denial denial. Meanwhile, he's going to a fat-cat fundraiser on May 29. This is how the game is played.

This is also the happiest news that Democrats have received since they learned last August that right-wing-ideologue Paul Ryan was joining the 2012 Republican ticket. If they were smart, they'd start boosting Cruz at every opportunity...but wait, they're doing it already. Here was James Carville yesterday, on ABC News:

"I think he is the most talented and fearless Republican I've seen in the last 30 years...He just keeps plowing ahead. He's going to be something to watch."

Paul Ryan, who last November couldn't even carry his own home town, at least has one foot in reality. Cruz, on the other hand, dwells in the realm of paranoid fantasy. For starters, he claims that the United Nations has a plot to ban golf courses (he has assailed a non-binding U.N. treaty that, in his words, would "abolish 'unsustainable' environments, including golf courses, grazing pastures, and paved roads"). No wonder Carville is so bullish.

Cruz also claims that "Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government" have infiltrated the Harvard Law School faculty (he has never named any), he claims that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel took money from America's enemies (he has never document this), he says that "I don't think what Washington needs is more compromise," he says that his Senate Republican colleagues are "a bunch of squishes" because they permitted gun reform to be debated on the Senate floor, and on and on.

Goldwater and Edsel

Imagine how this guy would do in a presidential election, which requires winning tens of millions of votes beyond the lunatic fringe...but wait, his "friends and confidants" have an answer for that. From the National Review story:

"His supporters argue that he’d be a Barry Goldwater type - a nominee who would rattle the Republican establishment and reconnect the party with its base - but with better electoral results." Really, a "Barry Goldwater" type? Do they remember what happened to the purist conservative candidate in 1964? He lost 44 states and 61.1 percent of the popular vote.

That's like a car company ballyhooing its new sedan as a Ford Edsel type, only with better sales.

Cruz is the purest incarnation (thus far) of conservative Republican extremism, an election disaster waiting to happen - as most Republicans with an ounce of sense surely recognize. When asked the other night about Cruz, Senate colleague Lindsey Graham replied: "Where is America? It's in the right-center. It's not in the right ditch."

Cruz would have plenty of competition, of course. Fellow Senate tea-partyers Rand Paul and Marco Rubio are also in early jockeying mode - personally, I look forward to the debates, when Cruz attacks Rubio for pushing immigration reform, and bathes in the applause from the usual 99 percent white audience - and we can surely expect to hear the hapless Republican establishment plead for at least a scintilla of mainstream moderation. Indeed, the prospect of Cruz condescendingly lecturing Chris Christie on his refusal to endorse 100 percent gun rights, on Christie's alleged squishiness, and Christie lashing back by going all Jersey on Cruz, to the accompaniment of boos....

Hey, it's never too early to stock up on popcorn. Maybe C-SPAN should call it "Road to the Right Ditch."

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