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Lots of candidates, fewer accomplishments

Ted Cruz kicked off his presidential campaign last week. Rand Paul went this week and Marco Rubio is next week. Do any of them have Senate accomplishments?
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (L) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) wait to speak at an event on Sept. 10, 2013 in Washington, DC.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (L) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) wait to speak at an event on Sept. 10, 2013 in Washington, DC.
CNBC's John Harwood sat down with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) this week for an informative interview, which included an interesting exchange about the senator's limited record.

Harwood: When I asked a couple of other campaigns, "What would you ask him if you were me?" they said, "Ask him to name his biggest accomplishment." And the reason they said that was, "He doesn't have any." What is your yardstick for when you're succeeding, as opposed to tilting at windmills, getting publicity, all that? Cruz: What I have endeavored to do in my time in the Senate is to stand up and lead on the great issues of the day.

The Texas Republican went on to talk about his ongoing effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act, which he has not done, but which he believes he's "built the foundation" to do.
Whether or not one takes the argument seriously, this probably won't be the last time Cruz is asked about his record. John Podhoretz, a prominent voice in conservative media, recently ran a piece with an unflattering headline: "Ted Cruz's challenge: The other guys have done things."
Shortly after the GOP senator launched his presidential candidacy, The Hill published an "infographic" on Cruz's legislative history, which concluded that the Texas Republican has successfully passed just one bill into law.
The piece didn't specify the metrics -- it's unclear, for example, whether this includes amendments and/or resolutions -- but it does help explain why Cruz, when asked about his accomplishments, emphasizes "standing up and leading on the great issues of the day."
It's an effective euphemism for, "Judge me for my position on the issues, not what I've actually done to advance my agenda."
The challenge is not limited to Cruz, of course. Take Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), for example. shows the Kentucky Republican co-sponsoring a handful of bills that became law during his four years on the Capitol Hill, when it comes to measures on which he was the lead sponsor, none of his proposals became law. Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) record points to the exact same problem.
In fairness, these three senators are relatively new to Capitol Hill -- Paul and Rubio were elected in 2010, Cruz in 2012 -- which means they've been legislators during a time in which Congress has accomplished practically nothing. Indeed, the last two Congresses have been the least productive for passing bills into law since clerks started keeping track nearly a century ago.
No one has racked up an impressive list of legislative accomplishments in recent years because the business of lawmaking effectively collapsed after the Republican gains in the 2010 midterms. This, however, may not make for a compelling 2016 pitch: "My excuse for not having any accomplishments is that I've been part of an unpopular institution that hasn't gotten anything done."
In other words, Cruz, Paul, and Rubio will soon hit the national trail, competing against credible rivals, talking with great passion about "standing up and leading on the great issues of the day" -- all the while hoping no one asks what they've actually done since joining the Senate.
Whether Republican primary voters find this persuasive remains to be seen.