Commentary Magazine


Ted Cruz Takes on DC Gimmickry

In the post-Tim Russert age, Sunday morning political talk shows are rarely revelatory or particularly educational. But that wasn’t the case yesterday for Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican and Senate nominee, who got an education in the ways of Washington. Cruz appeared on Russert’s old program, “Meet the Press,” along with the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne and a few other commentators.

Cruz is a Tea Party favorite, which means sending an “outsider” to Washington was important to his appeal. And he was presented with a pristine example of the Beltway nonsense he would be up against when he and Dionne got into a brief argument over the two parties’ different takes on the budget. Dionne insisted President Obama is a serious man with a serious plan, and thus put forth a serious budget, in keeping with his overall seriousness. Because the president’s plans are manifestly unserious, Cruz said so, and asked Dionne how many votes the president’s budget received in the Senate. Here is the exchange that followed:

MR. DIONNE:  Well, that’s– that is a side issue because…

MR. CRUZ:  It got zero votes.  Not a Democrat…

MR. DIONNE:  No, no, Obama…

MR. CRUZ:  …in the Senate voted for it.

MR. DIONNE:  Yes, because…

MR. CRUZ:  Not one.

MR. DIONNE:  …the vote was put up there as a political matter.

You’ll have to go to the program’s web page to watch the video, and I highly recommend it, because the look on Cruz’s face when Dionne said this was absolutely priceless. Cruz understands Washington business-as-usual well enough to run against it, but he seemed genuinely shocked, not that liberal pundits would believe what Dionne was saying, but that they would say it out loud.

You would think that the number of votes received by the president’s budget would be important, and that the president’s party would think that, since they control the Senate and since the GOP-led House has been passing budgets, they should pass a budget as well. But you would be wrong. Cruz is living in the real world, where you need concrete budgets to operate. Dionne explained to him that, first, the number of votes a budget receives is “a side issue,” and second, the only reason to put the president’s budget up for a vote is to play some kind of trick on him. The Republicans offered to have a clean vote on the president’s own budget because, well, they’re a bunch of meanies. Welcome to Washington.

In the fantasy world of liberal pundits, you don’t need to pass a budget, or enact real-world solutions to problems. You just have to make a series of grand political gestures infused with partisan demagoguery and call it “governing.” As it happens, the weekend was bookended by this behavior. On Friday, the Obama campaign, apparently without shame or a shred of self-awareness, told the Romney campaign that if Mitt Romney releases five years of tax returns the Obama campaign will stop asking for more tax returns:

“If the governor will release five years of returns, I commit in turn that we will not criticize him for not releasing more — neither in ads nor in other public communications or commentary for the rest of the campaign,” Mr. Messina wrote to Matt Rhoades, Mr. Romney’s campaign manager.

Again, it’s understandable that the Obama campaign does not want to have a serious conversation about the issues, but why be so open about it? Perhaps because the press will keep writing these stories for them, so why not? What the Obama campaign letter meant, of course, is that they will criticize Romney for whatever they find in those five years of tax returns relentlessly, while their allies “outside” the campaign, like Harry Reid, continue to attack the Romney campaign—uncoordinated, they swear!—for not releasing more.

As Alana wrote on Friday, this is an indication the Obama campaign is running out of ways to change the subject. If they cannot change the subject, they will have more conversations like the one between Dionne and Cruz. And that simply can’t be good for the Obama campaign.