Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ted Cruz

Immigration Debate Is Just Getting Started

Nearly every question of how a Republican politician’s stand will affect the 2016 presidential primaries must be qualified with “it depends who else runs.” And so it is with Jeb Bush’s comments on immigration. Although conservatives have more objections to Bush than on immigration, other issues–such as the Common Core, for example–just don’t have the visibility the immigration issue does. Nor do those other issues have the legislative and policy relevance of immigration: the Senate, after all, did pass an immigration reform bill.

Additionally, immigration arguably played a greater role than any other specific issue in sifting wheat from chaff in the 2012 Republican primaries. There were other factors, but it seems clear that Rick Perry was at least damaged by his comments on immigration–that if you don’t support in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrations “I don’t think you have a heart.” Bush’s comment–that such migration is “an act of love”–has been compared to Perry’s, and it’s also similar to a far better phrased version of the argument put forth by Newt Gingrich, who put it in terms of separating families. And we got a preview of how Bush’s comments might be countered in a 2016 version of those debates from Ted Cruz, in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper:

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Nearly every question of how a Republican politician’s stand will affect the 2016 presidential primaries must be qualified with “it depends who else runs.” And so it is with Jeb Bush’s comments on immigration. Although conservatives have more objections to Bush than on immigration, other issues–such as the Common Core, for example–just don’t have the visibility the immigration issue does. Nor do those other issues have the legislative and policy relevance of immigration: the Senate, after all, did pass an immigration reform bill.

Additionally, immigration arguably played a greater role than any other specific issue in sifting wheat from chaff in the 2012 Republican primaries. There were other factors, but it seems clear that Rick Perry was at least damaged by his comments on immigration–that if you don’t support in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrations “I don’t think you have a heart.” Bush’s comment–that such migration is “an act of love”–has been compared to Perry’s, and it’s also similar to a far better phrased version of the argument put forth by Newt Gingrich, who put it in terms of separating families. And we got a preview of how Bush’s comments might be countered in a 2016 version of those debates from Ted Cruz, in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper:

“We need to be a nation that welcomes and celebrates legal immigrants, people who follow the rules, and come here according to the law,” said Cruz in response.

“Rule of law matters. And if you look at any sovereign nation, securing your border is critically important,” said the freshman lawmaker.

“We need to solve the problem to secure the borders and then improve and streamline legal immigration so people can come to America consistent with the rule of law,” said Cruz.

Cruz’s response is not particularly controversial, though it’s clear he’s less concerned about fixing America’s legal immigration system–which is an unholy mess–than about securing the border. Both are important: in the age of asymmetric warfare, it makes no sense to have an unsecured border; and the current restrictions and layers of red tape on immigration are artificially distorting the market for labor and creating a black market–as overregulation almost always does–to fill the demand.

More relevant to 2016 than this argument–which goes round and round, and round again–is what it indicates about the various actors involved. And it confirms the pattern we’ve seen from Ted Cruz on his strategy for the primary contest. Cruz has not taken to promoting major reform legislation or “owning” an issue such as it is. Instead, he moves with alacrity to position himself slightly closer to the party’s grassroots when such reform is proposed.

There’s nothing objectionable about the strategy. Cruz is not required to churn out white papers or author major reform legislation, and if he does run for president he’ll do so anyway. It might not be on immigration, but in all likelihood a Cruz candidacy would include a tax plan at the very least. What the strategy is allowing Cruz to do is take the temperature of the party’s grassroots as the 2016 picture fills out.

Cruz has deployed the strategy against the candidate who would probably be his closest rival for grassroots voters, Rand Paul. When the Kentucky senator staged his famous filibuster over drones to the applause of conservatives (and a few non-conservatives as well), Cruz joined him on the chamber floor for the assist. But Paul’s response to the crisis in Ukraine was too tepid for Cruz, who staked out vague but more interventionist ground:

“I’m a big fan of Rand Paul. He and I are good friends. But I don’t agree with him on foreign policy,” Cruz said. “I think U.S. leadership is critical in the world. And I agree with him that we should be very reluctant to deploy military force abroad. But I think there is a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did… The United States has a responsibility to defend our values.”

Cruz portrays the difference between him and Paul as a philosophical one, which is why, as I’ve argued in the past, foreign policy is likely to be a more prominent point of contention in the 2016 GOP primary season than it was in 2012. As Jeb Bush’s comments showed, the contentious domestic issue is likely to be immigration, which is why, no matter how stalled in the House immigration legislation remains, it’s an argument that will only get louder between now and 2016.

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Jeb Bush and the 2016 GOP Field

George Will wrote a column in which he said of Jeb Bush, “A candidacy by Florida’s former governor would be desirable” and “[he] does … deserve a respectful hearing from the Republican nominating electorate.”


I agree, partly because I admire Bush, who was a highly successful, reform-minded conservative governor. His record as governor of Florida was, in fact, more conservative in key respects than Ronald Reagan’s record when he was governor of California. (Mr. Reagan signed into law what at the time was the largest tax hike ever proposed by any governor, whereas Bush cut taxes every year he was governor, covering eight years and totaling $20 billion.) Governor Bush also has the ability to appeal to non-traditional GOP voters. For example, he won 61 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1998 and 56 percent of their vote in 2002. (Hispanics are one of the fastest-rising demographic groups in America; in 2012, Mitt Romney won only 27 percent of their vote.)

There are people who have doubts Bush will run and who say that even if he did, he wouldn’t win. Perhaps. For my part, I hope he does run, assuming he can do so with, in his words, “joy in my heart.”

But I also hope many others run in 2016, not only those I’m favorably disposed toward (like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, and Scott Walker) but also those I’ve been more critical of (including Ted Cruz and Rick Perry). Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee would be formidable figures in a contest; I hope they, too, enter the contest. The same goes for Rand Paul, with whom I have substantial disagreements (he is far more libertarian than I am).

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George Will wrote a column in which he said of Jeb Bush, “A candidacy by Florida’s former governor would be desirable” and “[he] does … deserve a respectful hearing from the Republican nominating electorate.”


I agree, partly because I admire Bush, who was a highly successful, reform-minded conservative governor. His record as governor of Florida was, in fact, more conservative in key respects than Ronald Reagan’s record when he was governor of California. (Mr. Reagan signed into law what at the time was the largest tax hike ever proposed by any governor, whereas Bush cut taxes every year he was governor, covering eight years and totaling $20 billion.) Governor Bush also has the ability to appeal to non-traditional GOP voters. For example, he won 61 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1998 and 56 percent of their vote in 2002. (Hispanics are one of the fastest-rising demographic groups in America; in 2012, Mitt Romney won only 27 percent of their vote.)

There are people who have doubts Bush will run and who say that even if he did, he wouldn’t win. Perhaps. For my part, I hope he does run, assuming he can do so with, in his words, “joy in my heart.”

But I also hope many others run in 2016, not only those I’m favorably disposed toward (like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, and Scott Walker) but also those I’ve been more critical of (including Ted Cruz and Rick Perry). Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee would be formidable figures in a contest; I hope they, too, enter the contest. The same goes for Rand Paul, with whom I have substantial disagreements (he is far more libertarian than I am).

Why do I hope the GOP contest will include people I’m not wild about? Because I want as many serious and substantial figures in the race as possible, in order to have the best representatives of various currents of thought (and style) within conservatism make their case. These debates can be clarifying, in a healthy way. (Some of us still regret that Governor Mitch Daniels, one of the most impressive minds and political talents in the GOP, didn’t run in 2012.)

In addition, people who look good on paper and sound impressive when being interviewed on Meet the Press don’t necessarily do well in presidential contests, where the scrutiny and intensity are far beyond what anyone who hasn’t run can imagine. Some people you might think would do superbly well in a presidential contest flame out; others who one might think would flounder rise to the occasion. You never know until the contest begins. So my attitude is the more the better, at least above a certain threshold. (Please, no more figures like Herman Cain, Ron Paul, or Michele Bachmann.)


The 2016 presidential contest should be winnable, but it won’t be easy. Democrats have important advantages right now when it comes to presidential contests. Which is why for Republicans to prevail it will take the best the GOP can produce. Who is that individual right now?

I have no idea. And neither do you. 

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Don’t Mourn the Passing of Robert Strauss’s Washington

The death of Washington fixer extraordinaire Robert Strauss at 95 this week is being noted as a reminder of a bygone era that has vanished from the scene. Strauss was, by any standard, a remarkable figure in 20th century American political history. The Texas-born lawyer founded Akin Gump, one of the capital’s most powerful law firms and played a pivotal role in Democratic Party politics for decades. He helped elect one president—Jimmy Carter—was a friend to several others, including Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan, and served both Democrats and Republicans in high office.

As the appreciations that have been written about his life have all agreed, he was a unique “character.” His keen political instincts, colorful language, and smooth manner helped him amass great influence and allowed him to play both ends against the middle throughout his career. Strauss was said to have embodied a Washington where partisan differences were muted. His D.C. was the sort of place where Republicans and Democrats might have used some sharp elbows on each other on the floors of Congress and on the campaign trail. But they could always relax with each other and, more importantly, do business and cooperate behind the scenes to advance Strauss’s perennial agenda of “making the government work.”

But while Strauss deserves credit for his rise from obscurity as the lone Jewish boy in a small Texas town to the toast of Capitol Hill, we should not be mourning the passing of his Washington. For all of his gifts, Strauss exemplified a kind of politics that was, at its heart, unprincipled and, above all, self-interested. Pundits lament the hyper-partisan nature of D.C. politics today in which ideologues on both sides of the aisle dominate and often make compromise impossible. But the notion that we were better off in an era when “go along to get along” produced a government that was unaccountable and worked primarily to help enrich political elites at the expense of the taxpayers is the product of a dangerous kind of amnesia.

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The death of Washington fixer extraordinaire Robert Strauss at 95 this week is being noted as a reminder of a bygone era that has vanished from the scene. Strauss was, by any standard, a remarkable figure in 20th century American political history. The Texas-born lawyer founded Akin Gump, one of the capital’s most powerful law firms and played a pivotal role in Democratic Party politics for decades. He helped elect one president—Jimmy Carter—was a friend to several others, including Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan, and served both Democrats and Republicans in high office.

As the appreciations that have been written about his life have all agreed, he was a unique “character.” His keen political instincts, colorful language, and smooth manner helped him amass great influence and allowed him to play both ends against the middle throughout his career. Strauss was said to have embodied a Washington where partisan differences were muted. His D.C. was the sort of place where Republicans and Democrats might have used some sharp elbows on each other on the floors of Congress and on the campaign trail. But they could always relax with each other and, more importantly, do business and cooperate behind the scenes to advance Strauss’s perennial agenda of “making the government work.”

But while Strauss deserves credit for his rise from obscurity as the lone Jewish boy in a small Texas town to the toast of Capitol Hill, we should not be mourning the passing of his Washington. For all of his gifts, Strauss exemplified a kind of politics that was, at its heart, unprincipled and, above all, self-interested. Pundits lament the hyper-partisan nature of D.C. politics today in which ideologues on both sides of the aisle dominate and often make compromise impossible. But the notion that we were better off in an era when “go along to get along” produced a government that was unaccountable and worked primarily to help enrich political elites at the expense of the taxpayers is the product of a dangerous kind of amnesia.

Even if his ability to enrich himself and his clients by positioning himself at the public trough is inherently unseemly, the tale of Strauss’s gleeful ascent up the greasy pole is nevertheless a good story in which it is hard to root against him. Strauss’s allergic reaction to ideology has caused more than one writer to compare him to the protagonist of House of Cards. That seems a bit extreme (no one has accused Strauss of murder, let alone the kind of political skullduggery that the fictional Frank Underwood commits) but in an era in which we have grown tired of ideologues, perhaps it’s understandable that there is nostalgia for a time when a fixer could sit down with party leaders and make a deal that both sides might profit from. Many of us are weary of people like Ted Cruz, with their uncompromising approach to politics that might, at least occasionally, be improved by a touch of Straussian pragmatism.

Yet a chorus of querulous Cruz clones endlessly bickering on points of principle would far better serve the nation than a new generation of Bob Strausses orchestrating things from the sideline. There was something profoundly wrong about the influence of figures like Strauss and not just because, as Michael Kinsley famously wrote of him, he was “99 percent hot air.” Rather it was because a political system dominated by men and women who clearly believed in nothing and whose primary motivation was to game the system prevented accountability and ultimately undermined democracy itself.

We sometimes forget that it was the reality of a Washington in which Strauss was not an outlier that gave rise to the revolution on the right led by New Gingrich in the late ’80s and ’90s and then eventually to today’s Tea Party. Americans may not want their government to be shut down over partisan quarrels, but they also understand that a Congress and a D.C. establishment that eschews ideology is one that is in the pockets of the lobbyists rather than working for the people. It’s OK to chuckle at the colorful anecdotes being recounted today of Strauss’s influence peddling and bipartisan deal making. But let’s never be so annoyed with the Ted Cruzes of the world that we think we’ll be better off with a return to his Washington.

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Cruz to Rand: Tea Party ≠ Isolationist

Senator Rand Paul is smart enough not to place too much importance on his victory in the presidential straw poll held at the recently concluded CPAC conference. Paul was undoubtedly the favorite of the conservative activists who attended the annual big conservative jamboree and received the biggest ovation of all the GOP stars who spoke there. Yet he is sure to remember that his father Ron also won the straw poll in 2010 and 2011 without it aiding his noisy but ultimately futile 2012 presidential candidacy.

However no one, least of all, his GOP rivals, should think that Paul hasn’t expanded his base from his father’s band of libertarian extremists or won’t be a first tier contender in 2016 when runs for president. He has maintained the momentum he got from his filibuster on drones last year while also carefully avoiding confrontations with the GOP establishment he’s eager to supersede. Many of his backers thought the disastrous government shutdown was a good idea and want to make all members of the party leadership to pay for the compromises they forged in order to extricate Republicans from the corner into which the Tea Party had painted them. However, Paul is quietly backing his Kentucky colleague Mitch McConnell for re-election. He’s also sent out signals to the establishment that he should be trusted to avoid extremism by saying that the shutdown wasn’t such a good idea.

But none of that changes the fact that Paul remains outside the mainstream of his party on foreign policy. As Ted Cruz, Paul’s main rival for the affection of Tea Party voters, reminded the country today on ABC’s “This Week,” it would be a mistake to think the Kentucky senator’s neo-isolationist views represent the sentiments of most conservatives or even Tea Partiers. Resentment against big government and suspicion of President Obama’s actions may have helped boost Paul’s popularity, but the idea that it is Rand’s party on foreign policy is a myth.

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Senator Rand Paul is smart enough not to place too much importance on his victory in the presidential straw poll held at the recently concluded CPAC conference. Paul was undoubtedly the favorite of the conservative activists who attended the annual big conservative jamboree and received the biggest ovation of all the GOP stars who spoke there. Yet he is sure to remember that his father Ron also won the straw poll in 2010 and 2011 without it aiding his noisy but ultimately futile 2012 presidential candidacy.

However no one, least of all, his GOP rivals, should think that Paul hasn’t expanded his base from his father’s band of libertarian extremists or won’t be a first tier contender in 2016 when runs for president. He has maintained the momentum he got from his filibuster on drones last year while also carefully avoiding confrontations with the GOP establishment he’s eager to supersede. Many of his backers thought the disastrous government shutdown was a good idea and want to make all members of the party leadership to pay for the compromises they forged in order to extricate Republicans from the corner into which the Tea Party had painted them. However, Paul is quietly backing his Kentucky colleague Mitch McConnell for re-election. He’s also sent out signals to the establishment that he should be trusted to avoid extremism by saying that the shutdown wasn’t such a good idea.

But none of that changes the fact that Paul remains outside the mainstream of his party on foreign policy. As Ted Cruz, Paul’s main rival for the affection of Tea Party voters, reminded the country today on ABC’s “This Week,” it would be a mistake to think the Kentucky senator’s neo-isolationist views represent the sentiments of most conservatives or even Tea Partiers. Resentment against big government and suspicion of President Obama’s actions may have helped boost Paul’s popularity, but the idea that it is Rand’s party on foreign policy is a myth.

The assumption that all those who sympathize with the Tea Party agree with Paul on foreign policy is as much a product of liberal mainstream media manipulation as is the canard that they are racists. Those who identify with or view the movement favorably share a common mindset about the need to push back against the expansion of big government and the tax and spend policies that are its foundation. But many of those who call themselves Tea Partiers want nothing to do with Paul’s antipathy for a strong defense and unwillingness to maintain a stalwart U.S. presence abroad to stand up for our allies and our values.

Cruz has carved out a niche for himself among those most antagonistic to the party establishment as well as the liberal big government machine. But today he outlined a point on which he, and many other grass roots conservatives part company with Paul:

“I’m a big fan of Rand Paul,” Cruz said in an interview aired Sunday.” “We are good friends. I don’t agree with him on foreign policy. U.S. leadership is critical in the world. I agree we should be reluctant to deploy military force aboard, but there’s a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did. When Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an Evil Empire, when he stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate and said ‘Tear down this wall.’ Those words changed the course of history. The United States has a responsibility to defend our values.”

In doing so, Cruz drew a clear distinction between his beliefs and a Paulite view of America’s place in the world that is for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from Obama’s predilection for retreat from confrontations with aggressors such as Iran or Russia.

Paul sought to align himself with Reagan’s foreign policy views on Fox News Sunday by declaring that his “reluctance for war” shouldn’t be confused with a “lack of resolve.” But to defend that position he cited an op-ed published in the Washington Post on the crisis in the Ukraine by Henry Kissinger as something he agreed with.

While no one doubts Dr. Kissinger’s deep store of knowledge about foreign policy, his piece combined common sense about the limits of America’s ability to undo Russia’s seizure of the Crimea with a sorry rationalization for Vladimir Putin’s aggression. The former secretary of state’s citation of Russian claims to the Ukraine and attempt to argue against strong Western outrage about this crime was exactly the wrong message to send to Russia at a time when it is trying to subvert the independence of that country in order to reassemble in one form or another the late and unlamented Tsarist/Soviet Empire.

The article was a cri de Coeur for a revival not of Reaganite foreign policy but of Kissinger’s own amoral détente with the Soviets that treated human rights (including the fate of a persecuted Soviet Jewry) as an unimportant detail. This sort of “realism” has always had its advocates within the GOP but it was exactly the sort of Republican establishment mindset that Reagan bitterly opposed in the 1976 and 1980 GOP primaries.

For the last generation, the Republican mainstream has, with some notable exceptions, united behind policies that emphasized a strong defense and a foreign policy that rejected retreat in the face of aggression while also upholding American values. It is interesting as well as gratifying to see that for all of his desire to torch the establishment on every other issue, Ted Cruz is very much part of this consensus. Paul can pretend he was more influenced by Reagan than his extremist father (whose views on foreign policy would make him more at home on the far left than the right). But as long as he remains an outlier on this crucial element of presidential politics, he shouldn’t be thought of as representing all Tea Partiers, let alone most Republicans.

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“I Live in a Rather Special World”

When I was driving my son to school yesterday (there was a two-hour delay in opening), I listened to Mike Gallagher, a talk show host whom I like and on whose show I have appeared.

During the portion I listened to, Gallagher was urging Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2016, assuming she’d be relatively easy to defeat. When it came to the “perfect” GOP candidate to beat her, Gallagher named Senator Ted Cruz. The reason, he said, is that Cruz will focus attention on and prosecute the case against Mrs. Clinton in two areas: the attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi in 2012 and her role in the various Clinton scandals of the 1990s. Mr. Gallagher contrasted Cruz with John McCain, who (to Gallagher’s consternation) didn’t make Barack Obama’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright a prominent part of his run for the presidency. The implication was that if he had, McCain would have done much better.

Now I happen to believe that all of the issues Gallagher names are legitimate ones to raise – and indeed I’ve written about them myself. I certainly don’t think they should be off limits if Mrs. Clinton runs. Of course her record and actions are legitimate lines of inquiry.

But my sense is that Gallagher, as well as other conservatives, believe re-litigating the Clinton years and Benghazi will move voters into the Republican column. Their argument, as I understand it, is that a major problem, and maybe the main problem, with recent Republican presidential candidates is that they haven’t been aggressive enough; that if, say, John McCain had talked more often and with more outrage directed at Obama’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright, he would have done much better in 2008. 

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When I was driving my son to school yesterday (there was a two-hour delay in opening), I listened to Mike Gallagher, a talk show host whom I like and on whose show I have appeared.

During the portion I listened to, Gallagher was urging Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2016, assuming she’d be relatively easy to defeat. When it came to the “perfect” GOP candidate to beat her, Gallagher named Senator Ted Cruz. The reason, he said, is that Cruz will focus attention on and prosecute the case against Mrs. Clinton in two areas: the attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi in 2012 and her role in the various Clinton scandals of the 1990s. Mr. Gallagher contrasted Cruz with John McCain, who (to Gallagher’s consternation) didn’t make Barack Obama’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright a prominent part of his run for the presidency. The implication was that if he had, McCain would have done much better.

Now I happen to believe that all of the issues Gallagher names are legitimate ones to raise – and indeed I’ve written about them myself. I certainly don’t think they should be off limits if Mrs. Clinton runs. Of course her record and actions are legitimate lines of inquiry.

But my sense is that Gallagher, as well as other conservatives, believe re-litigating the Clinton years and Benghazi will move voters into the Republican column. Their argument, as I understand it, is that a major problem, and maybe the main problem, with recent Republican presidential candidates is that they haven’t been aggressive enough; that if, say, John McCain had talked more often and with more outrage directed at Obama’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright, he would have done much better in 2008. 

I don’t think there’s any empirical evidence that supports that theory and, in fact, it almost certainly would have backfired on McCain. As for Hillary Clinton: if she is the nominee, relentlessly pounding her on Whitewater, the firing of White House travel office director Billy Dale and attacking Ken Starr would  boomerang, making the attacker appear to be (among other things) out of touch. Her culpability on Benghazi is (potentially) another matter — but even then, it may not be a terribly effective line of attack and it will never be anything like a decisive factor. The drawback to those who embrace the re-litigation strategy is that it will distract Republicans from a far more urgent need, which is to develop a comprehensive conservative governing agenda that will reach voters who are not now voting for GOP presidential nominees.

What this highlights, I think, is a temptation we all face in politics, which is to assume what we care about and feel passionate about is what others must as well. If the misdeeds surrounding what happened in Benghazi or Whitewater infuriate you, it will surely infuriate others. And if they’re not reacting the same way as you are, it must be a communications problem. You simply need to make your case more often, more vocally, and with more passion. You need to make the case over and over again, until you make voters care.

I know of what I speak. In the last 1990s, during the Clinton impeachment battles, I assumed that at some point, as President Clinton’s lawlessness (including perjury), his abuses of power and his predator behavior were exposed, the American people would turn on him. They never did. (Remember when Bob Dole, in the last days of the 1996 campaign — before the Lewinsky scandal — asked, “Where’s the outrage? Where’s the outrage?”) 

To return to the Gallagher example: a majority, and probably a vast majority, of his listeners are energized and interested in Benghazi and the Clinton scandals. That’s fine. The error, I think, is in assuming that the rest of America must care about it, too, and that focusing on these issues would help a GOP nominee win the presidency.

This is the downside of the modern media age, when those on the left and right can read and listen almost exclusively to people who share their worldview and serve to reinforce it. I’m reminded of the comment by The New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, who after the 1972 presidential election reportedly said, “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.” (Kudos to John Podhoretz for calling attention to the actual Pauline Kael quote.)

Probably more than ever before, more and more of us live in “a rather special world” in which those who hold views different than ours are outside our ken. That’s true for me. I imagine it’s true for Mike Gallagher and Rachel Maddow. And who knows; it may be true for you, too. 

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The State of the Tea Party 2014

Five years ago this week, CNBC commentator Rick Santelli delivered an on-air tirade from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in which he talked about organizing a tea party to protest government bailouts and stimulus spending. What followed was the birth of a nationwide movement that adopted the name Tea Party that has transformed American politics. That anniversary was commemorated this week with a Capitol Hill conference of the Tea Party Patriots—one of a number of groups that seek to represent the views of this movement—at which a number of conservative politicians either sought to channel Santelli’s initial rabble-rousing spirit or to harness it to a more pragmatic campaign to win both houses of Congress and the White House. But those seeking to assess the current strength of the Tea Party idea are wrong to measure it solely in partisan political terms or even the relative influence of any of those who claim to fly the movement’s flag. The most important thing to realize about the Tea Party is that it is a broad set of ideas, not a coherent or distinctly organized movement that takes orders from any one leader or leaders.

What both conservatives and liberals often forget about the Tea Party is that the driving spirit of this movement is not so much Republican as it is one of rebellion against those who defend a Washington status quo that perpetuates a government tax and spending machine. The mainstream media sees the Tea Party as the embodiment of the Washington event at which, like all such conferences, an eclectic gathering of ordinary citizens network with political outliers. But the Tea Party that turned the 2010 midterms into a historic GOP landslide is more than a convention of grass roots activists. It is the expression of frustration with the inability of the political class to reform itself and preserve the vision of limited government promised in the Constitution.

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Five years ago this week, CNBC commentator Rick Santelli delivered an on-air tirade from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in which he talked about organizing a tea party to protest government bailouts and stimulus spending. What followed was the birth of a nationwide movement that adopted the name Tea Party that has transformed American politics. That anniversary was commemorated this week with a Capitol Hill conference of the Tea Party Patriots—one of a number of groups that seek to represent the views of this movement—at which a number of conservative politicians either sought to channel Santelli’s initial rabble-rousing spirit or to harness it to a more pragmatic campaign to win both houses of Congress and the White House. But those seeking to assess the current strength of the Tea Party idea are wrong to measure it solely in partisan political terms or even the relative influence of any of those who claim to fly the movement’s flag. The most important thing to realize about the Tea Party is that it is a broad set of ideas, not a coherent or distinctly organized movement that takes orders from any one leader or leaders.

What both conservatives and liberals often forget about the Tea Party is that the driving spirit of this movement is not so much Republican as it is one of rebellion against those who defend a Washington status quo that perpetuates a government tax and spending machine. The mainstream media sees the Tea Party as the embodiment of the Washington event at which, like all such conferences, an eclectic gathering of ordinary citizens network with political outliers. But the Tea Party that turned the 2010 midterms into a historic GOP landslide is more than a convention of grass roots activists. It is the expression of frustration with the inability of the political class to reform itself and preserve the vision of limited government promised in the Constitution.

Like all such movements the transition from the stump to the halls of government power has been rough. Effecting change in a democracy is more than a matter of demonstrations or even getting out the vote. It requires persuasion and a commitment to the sort of nose-to-the-grindstone political work that is antithetical to the spirit of rebellion Santelli and those who followed him have sought to harness.

Senator Mike Lee of Utah summed up the challenge for the Tea Party when he said this week, “The way to defeat establishment inertia is not by finding and discarding heretics as much as it is about winning a civil debate. A civil debate, not a civil war.” He’s right about that and those who see only a war between the party establishment and the activists need to remember that the Tea Party has already won the ideological war within the Republican Party.

Though coverage of the Tea Party mostly focuses on the fights between Senator Ted Cruz and some of his GOP colleagues, what is often forgotten is that there is no debate within the party about the principles that the Tea Party movement embodies. All endorse the Tea Party view about the need to fight back against President Obama’s efforts to increase the power of government. Anger against ObamaCare and a government that is too big to fail and too powerful to be held accountable for its out-of-control spending is universal in the GOP. The only differences are about tactics, not the ideas that catapulted the movement into the public square after the stimulus and the Affordable Care Act were past by a Democratic Congress in 2009 and 2010.

The Tea Party has stumbled at times when it allowed the emotions of the debate to overwhelm good sense and dictate destructive tactics like the government shutdown to undermine their cause. It has sometimes pursued party purity over the less exciting business of building governing coalitions. But what its liberal critics forget is that while Ted Cruz and government shutdown advocates are not trusted by most Americans, the same public anger that gave birth to the Tea Party is even greater today than it was five years ago. The challenge for Republicans is to remember that the Tea Party is not just a bunch of activists who go to conventions but, in fact, a broad cross-section of Americans who share their basic beliefs about the role of government. That mass movement of voters took liberal pundits by surprise in 2010 when the Tea Party that they derided as a band of racist cranks turned out in numbers sufficient to oust a Democratic Congress.

The Tea Party is not tied to specific organizations bearing the name but to an idea of reform. To the extent that Republicans continue to embody that concept while also showing themselves worthy of the people’s trust, they will win. That’s why, for all of its ups and downs in recent years, Democrats who prefer to believe the myth that the Tea Party is a top-down concept created by corporate funders may discover they are as wrong about it today as they were when it first started. 

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Will the 2016 GOP Nomination Turn on Foreign Policy?

The “trading places” theme of the 2016 presidential election continues, with the latest indication that the Republicans have become the party of internal discord and dissent powered by a younger generation of politicians and voters while the Democrats have become the party of entrenched cliqueocracy. The New York Times reports today on its latest poll, conducted jointly with CBS News, on the political figures each party’s voters want to see run for president.

More than 80 percent of Democrats said they wanted Hillary Clinton to run, with only 13 percent saying they’d rather she not. That is, as the Times notes, “a level of interest in her that no other potential candidates – Democrat or Republican – come close to matching among their party’s voters.” More intriguing are the post-Bridgegate levels of interest in Republican candidates. The support for a Chris Christie candidacy is now ten points underwater. The candidates with the most voter interest on the right–surely having something to do with name recognition–are Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, each at about 40 percent.

The Times continues:

Thirty-two percent of Republicans say they want Senator Marco Rubio of Florida to run, although Mr. Rubio also seems to have fewer detractors than Mr. Bush or Mr. Paul (more do not know enough about him to say). Only 15 percent of Republicans said they did not want Mr. Rubio to run, compared with 21 percent for Mr. Paul and 27 percent for Mr. Bush. Twenty-four percent said they hoped Senator Ted Cruz of Texas would run, compared with 15 percent who said they did not want him to. Fifty-nine percent do not know enough about Mr. Cruz to say.

The poll did not ask about several other potential Republican candidates, including Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. No major candidates in either party have yet declared their candidacy, but several have taken steps indicating that they are seriously considering a run.

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The “trading places” theme of the 2016 presidential election continues, with the latest indication that the Republicans have become the party of internal discord and dissent powered by a younger generation of politicians and voters while the Democrats have become the party of entrenched cliqueocracy. The New York Times reports today on its latest poll, conducted jointly with CBS News, on the political figures each party’s voters want to see run for president.

More than 80 percent of Democrats said they wanted Hillary Clinton to run, with only 13 percent saying they’d rather she not. That is, as the Times notes, “a level of interest in her that no other potential candidates – Democrat or Republican – come close to matching among their party’s voters.” More intriguing are the post-Bridgegate levels of interest in Republican candidates. The support for a Chris Christie candidacy is now ten points underwater. The candidates with the most voter interest on the right–surely having something to do with name recognition–are Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, each at about 40 percent.

The Times continues:

Thirty-two percent of Republicans say they want Senator Marco Rubio of Florida to run, although Mr. Rubio also seems to have fewer detractors than Mr. Bush or Mr. Paul (more do not know enough about him to say). Only 15 percent of Republicans said they did not want Mr. Rubio to run, compared with 21 percent for Mr. Paul and 27 percent for Mr. Bush. Twenty-four percent said they hoped Senator Ted Cruz of Texas would run, compared with 15 percent who said they did not want him to. Fifty-nine percent do not know enough about Mr. Cruz to say.

The poll did not ask about several other potential Republican candidates, including Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. No major candidates in either party have yet declared their candidacy, but several have taken steps indicating that they are seriously considering a run.

It’s certainly true that a complete 2016 preview would include voter opinions on Scott Walker and probably Paul Ryan as well–even though the latter does not appear to be gearing up for a presidential run, he was on the ticket last time and has been a leader of the “reform conservatism” caucus in Congress. But this poll isn’t a zero-sum “who would you vote for” survey, so the results still tell us a lot.

There is more opposition to a Paul candidacy and a Jeb Bush candidacy than to either Rubio or Cruz. In the case of Bush, his last name–as he recently acknowledged–probably has much to do with it. The opposition to Paul is noteworthy. The Kentucky libertarian is far from the divisive figure his father was as a candidate and congressman. Paul’s brand of conservatism has even hinted at a bipartisan appeal, especially on privacy and criminal-justice reform, without earning him the dreaded RINO label.

In fact, the area of Paul’s ideology that would breed concern among the party faithful is his outlook on foreign policy. If that’s the case, it’s significant. Paul’s admirers have always thought the most potent threat within the GOP to Paul’s anti-interventionist foreign policy came from the party elites. That’s one way his supporters have dismissed opposition to his views on foreign affairs: as neoconservative holdovers from the Bush administration.

That’s never really been the case, though. Indeed, if Paul has establishment support in the GOP it’s among the Bakerite realists. There is something ironic about treating a younger generation of conservatives–the George W. Bush team, largely–as has-beens whose old road is rapidly aging while drawing conceptual support and guidance from the prior generation–the George H.W. Bush team, largely. That doesn’t mean Paul’s views are unpopular. They have plenty of support, as evidenced by the fact that while more voters want Christie to sit out this election than run, that’s not even close to true of Paul.

But this does get at one possible obstacle to Paul’s run for the nomination. He is unlikely to have the big-government opponent he’d prefer to contrast himself with. His popularity is due in part to the fact that libertarian economic policy has become more accepted in the GOP in recent years, but that same popularity deprives him of his opposite. Instead, he’s likely to run against a range of candidates who mostly agree with him–and the base–on economic matters but not on foreign policy. It would be a fairly unexpected twist if the post-Iraq and Afghanistan GOP primary turned on foreign policy, but it might just be heading in that direction.

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Another RINO Attack on Ted Cruz

David Brooks is at it again. In his New York Times column today, Brooks once more went after Ted Cruz, writing:

Senator Ted Cruz has not yet reached the point where he can make policy, rather than just make political trouble. But there are already disquieting signs that he is looking out for Ted Cruz — even if that sets back the causes he claims to be serving.

This is just the kind of thing you’d expect from a card-carrying member of The Establishment, a neo-statist and a RINO, a person who regularly appears on Meet the Press and The News Hour.

Except that the paragraph I cited comes not from David Brooks, who in truth is one of the most thoughtful and interesting columnists in America, but from Thomas Sowell, one of the most influential intellectuals within conservatism, a man revered by the right, and a friend of the aims and animating principles of the Tea Party. Which makes it a bit harder to dismiss Sowell as easily as it is to dismiss some other (conservative) critics of Ted Cruz. 

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David Brooks is at it again. In his New York Times column today, Brooks once more went after Ted Cruz, writing:

Senator Ted Cruz has not yet reached the point where he can make policy, rather than just make political trouble. But there are already disquieting signs that he is looking out for Ted Cruz — even if that sets back the causes he claims to be serving.

This is just the kind of thing you’d expect from a card-carrying member of The Establishment, a neo-statist and a RINO, a person who regularly appears on Meet the Press and The News Hour.

Except that the paragraph I cited comes not from David Brooks, who in truth is one of the most thoughtful and interesting columnists in America, but from Thomas Sowell, one of the most influential intellectuals within conservatism, a man revered by the right, and a friend of the aims and animating principles of the Tea Party. Which makes it a bit harder to dismiss Sowell as easily as it is to dismiss some other (conservative) critics of Ted Cruz. 

There’s a deeper point to be made here, which is that so often these days substantive arguments aren’t really engaged. It’s so much easier (and intellectually less taxing) to try to dismiss those whom you disagree with rather than actually answering their critiques. 

That is a fairly common practice on the left, but it happens on the right as well. Think about some of the conservatives who often resort to this kind of thing. X person’s argument shouldn’t be listened to because he’s not one of us. He’s not part of The Movement. He doesn’t pass The Purity Test. (A few individuals on the right, including one with an evening talk radio program, have sought to discredit George Will’s conservative bone fides by pointing out that Will wrote favorable columns like this about Howard Baker 35 years ago. The work of Prefects of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith never ends.)

This is the kind of mindset that would eventually allow you to fit the number of people in a political movement in a phone booth. Fortunately this attitude is not dominant and, while it remains vocal, one senses it’s losing steam. For one thing, it’s not terribly conservative. For another, the excommunication fires eventually burn out. Because pretty soon there’s no one left to expel.

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I Still Remember, Senator Cruz

Earlier this week Senator Ted Cruz took to doing what he enjoys most: Lecturing the GOP “establishment” from his moral Mt. Olympus. 

Speaking critically about the vote to raise the debt limit, Cruz–who insisted on a 60-vote threshold to end debate on the measure–said some lawmakers are “willing to mortgage our children’s future” because they “care so much about being praised by the Washington media” and don’t think voters are paying attention. “But sometimes, come November, the people remember,” the junior senator from Texas declared.

Actually, come mid-February, the people still remember. At least I do.

I remember that Senator Cruz championed legislative tactics that resulted in the shutdown of the federal government last October. He apparently wanted another high-stakes showdown–this time over raising the debt ceiling–that would produce essentially the same result.

I remember the move he helped engineer last fall was a disaster for the GOP and harmful to the conservative cause. I remember that nothing was gained substantively. I remember that the American people, by large margins, hated the shutdown–and that the American people, by large margins, blamed Republicans for it. I remember how, thanks in good part to the shutdown, the GOP received the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992. And I remember that Senator Cruz’s tactic deflected attention from the awful rollout of healthcare.gov for several weeks, until the shutdown ended.

That’s not all I remember.

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Earlier this week Senator Ted Cruz took to doing what he enjoys most: Lecturing the GOP “establishment” from his moral Mt. Olympus. 

Speaking critically about the vote to raise the debt limit, Cruz–who insisted on a 60-vote threshold to end debate on the measure–said some lawmakers are “willing to mortgage our children’s future” because they “care so much about being praised by the Washington media” and don’t think voters are paying attention. “But sometimes, come November, the people remember,” the junior senator from Texas declared.

Actually, come mid-February, the people still remember. At least I do.

I remember that Senator Cruz championed legislative tactics that resulted in the shutdown of the federal government last October. He apparently wanted another high-stakes showdown–this time over raising the debt ceiling–that would produce essentially the same result.

I remember the move he helped engineer last fall was a disaster for the GOP and harmful to the conservative cause. I remember that nothing was gained substantively. I remember that the American people, by large margins, hated the shutdown–and that the American people, by large margins, blamed Republicans for it. I remember how, thanks in good part to the shutdown, the GOP received the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992. And I remember that Senator Cruz’s tactic deflected attention from the awful rollout of healthcare.gov for several weeks, until the shutdown ended.

That’s not all I remember.

I remember that Senator Cruz, in the months leading up to the shutdown, accused those who disagreed with his approach of being part of the “surrender caucus.” I remember that he and those he was allied with said that if you didn’t agree with their approach you were a de facto supporter of ObamaCare. And I remember that Senator Cruz did what he did because he cared so much about being praised by populist parts of the Republican base.

I remember it was obvious the tactic Mr. Cruz was pushing was destined to fail, that he went ahead with it anyway, and that now he’d like reporters to talk about things other than his role in the government shutdown.

Senator Cruz, in other words, would like us to forget. But I still remember.

So do others.

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Not So Fast, Senator Cruz

Senator Ted Cruz is tired of talking about the government shutdown.

“I understand that there are a lot of folks in the media that love to talk about the shutdown from four months ago,” he told reporters:

What we ought to be talking about is the fact that we have the lowest labor force participating in 30 years since 1978, that Obamacare has taken away more than 5 million people’s health insurance plans, that people are hurting, that income inequality has increased under the Obama agenda and that there is an abuse of power and lawlessness. So that’s what we ought to be talking about. Efforts that distract from that conversation, I think, are deliberate efforts of smoke and mirrors distracting from the questions coming from the American people.

Now why oh why would Senator Cruz want to stop talking about the government shutdown? After all, before it occurred he insisted it wouldn’t be such a bad thing–and since it’s occurred he’s claimed it was a wonderful success. “I think we accomplished a great deal,” according to Cruz.

Of course it did.

Don’t forget that during the lead-up to the shutdown Mr. Cruz insisted that those who didn’t agree with his tactics were part of the “surrender caucus” and he and his colleagues argued that if you didn’t follow their tactic, you were a de facto supporter of ObamaCare.

Of course it’s clear to every sentient human being that the Cruz & Co. gambit badly backfired. It achieved nothing useful. It deflected attention away from the awful rollout of the ObamaCare website. And it damaged the reputation of the GOP. The public, in overwhelming numbers, didn’t like the government shutdown–and by overwhelming numbers voters blamed Republicans for it. 

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Senator Ted Cruz is tired of talking about the government shutdown.

“I understand that there are a lot of folks in the media that love to talk about the shutdown from four months ago,” he told reporters:

What we ought to be talking about is the fact that we have the lowest labor force participating in 30 years since 1978, that Obamacare has taken away more than 5 million people’s health insurance plans, that people are hurting, that income inequality has increased under the Obama agenda and that there is an abuse of power and lawlessness. So that’s what we ought to be talking about. Efforts that distract from that conversation, I think, are deliberate efforts of smoke and mirrors distracting from the questions coming from the American people.

Now why oh why would Senator Cruz want to stop talking about the government shutdown? After all, before it occurred he insisted it wouldn’t be such a bad thing–and since it’s occurred he’s claimed it was a wonderful success. “I think we accomplished a great deal,” according to Cruz.

Of course it did.

Don’t forget that during the lead-up to the shutdown Mr. Cruz insisted that those who didn’t agree with his tactics were part of the “surrender caucus” and he and his colleagues argued that if you didn’t follow their tactic, you were a de facto supporter of ObamaCare.

Of course it’s clear to every sentient human being that the Cruz & Co. gambit badly backfired. It achieved nothing useful. It deflected attention away from the awful rollout of the ObamaCare website. And it damaged the reputation of the GOP. The public, in overwhelming numbers, didn’t like the government shutdown–and by overwhelming numbers voters blamed Republicans for it. 

So here’s my recommendation: Unless and until Senator Cruz admits the errors of his ways–unless he is willing to concede how flawed his judgment was and explains to us what he’s learned since then–the press should keep asking the junior senator from Texas about the shutdown. Again and again and again.

If Ted Cruz thinks it was such a terrific idea, let him claim ownership of it at every conceivable opportunity.

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Why the Budget Deal Deserves Conservative Support

Good grief. 

Reacting to the budget deal agreed to by Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray, Senator Rand Paul referred to it as “shameful.” Senator Ted Cruz informed us he found it to be “deeply concerning.” And Senator Marco Rubio said it would “make it harder for Americans to achieve the American dream.” 

So the geniuses who engineered the disastrous budget shutdown are now attacking an agreement that is  substantively defensible and politically wise.

To be sure, the budget deal is far from perfect. It doesn’t address the structural fiscal problems we face. But of course achieving such a thing is impossible so long as Barack Obama is president and Harry Reid is Senate majority leader. The issue is whether the deal is, on the margins, better than no deal. Answer: It is.

Basically the Ryan-Murray agreement allows minor increases in domestic discretionary spending in exchange for minor mandatory cuts in entitlement programs. To be specific: the deal gives back $63 billion over the next two years in domestic discretionary spending (including half of which goes for defense) in exchange for $85 billion in modest entitlement reforms over 10 years. The cuts are not as immediate as the spending increases–but they are cuts that are very likely to materialize and would not be easy to reverse. 

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Good grief. 

Reacting to the budget deal agreed to by Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray, Senator Rand Paul referred to it as “shameful.” Senator Ted Cruz informed us he found it to be “deeply concerning.” And Senator Marco Rubio said it would “make it harder for Americans to achieve the American dream.” 

So the geniuses who engineered the disastrous budget shutdown are now attacking an agreement that is  substantively defensible and politically wise.

To be sure, the budget deal is far from perfect. It doesn’t address the structural fiscal problems we face. But of course achieving such a thing is impossible so long as Barack Obama is president and Harry Reid is Senate majority leader. The issue is whether the deal is, on the margins, better than no deal. Answer: It is.

Basically the Ryan-Murray agreement allows minor increases in domestic discretionary spending in exchange for minor mandatory cuts in entitlement programs. To be specific: the deal gives back $63 billion over the next two years in domestic discretionary spending (including half of which goes for defense) in exchange for $85 billion in modest entitlement reforms over 10 years. The cuts are not as immediate as the spending increases–but they are cuts that are very likely to materialize and would not be easy to reverse. 

My Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin, writing on NRO, makes the following points: Mandatory spending out-year cuts actually tend to go into effect, unlike discretionary spending out-year cuts, because mandatory programs remain in place since they are on auto-pilot. The Ryan-Murray deal would say that about 30 percent of the sequester over the next two years will be replaced with modest (and much more sensible) longer-term entitlement savings and other small reforms. Fully 70 percent of the sequester remains in place in this two years, and after those two years the entire sequester remains in place. And this is important to note, too: this proposed deal would put discretionary spending in 2014 and 2015, even with the temporary two-year increase in spending, below that of the first House Republican budget, which was passed in 2011 to the praise of conservatives. In addition, this deal prevents additional deep cuts to the Department of Defense, it doesn’t involve any increase in tax rates, and it restores the normal appropriations process (which will allow Congress to set priorities). And just for the sake of context: the $63 billion increase over two years amounts to less than nine-tenths of one percent of projected federal spending over that period.

Where Ryan did a huge favor for the GOP politically is striking a deal that avoids a government shutdown, which (as we saw last October) would only damage the Republican Party and the conservative cause, in part by deflecting attention away from the rolling disaster of ObamaCare.

The deal also takes into account political reality: It’s quite possible House Republicans–in part because of Republicans who are worried about deep cuts in defense, in part because of Republicans who want to spend more–might not have had the votes in their own conference to have kept the sequester in place. Ryan, knowing this, pushed for the best deal he could to keep limits on spending rather than have the whole thing fall apart later.

On substance this budget deal, even if one supports it, isn’t worth getting all that excited about. (Similarly, if one opposes it, it isn’t worth getting all that excited about.) But the GOP and the conservative cause are better served with it than without it. Which is why it deserves support.

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Ted and Rand’s Father Problem

Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have a lot in common. Both senators have engaged in symbolic filibusters this year against Obama administration policies and have led the charge against ObamaCare and the so-called Republican establishment. And both would also like to be president, something that could, if they run, place them in a fierce competition for Tea Party primary voters in 2016. But they also have something else in common: problematic fathers. While Rand Paul has the advantage of inheriting his father Ron’s existing fan base and supporters for his presidential run, as I wrote earlier this year, the elder Paul also presents an ongoing liability for a politician who aspires to be more than the leader of an outlier faction of libertarian extremists.

But if, as I noted, Ron Paul could be his son’s Jeremiah Wright, that is even more the case with Cruz and his father, Pastor Rafael Cruz. While Rand and Ron Paul have had separate political lives in the last several years as the Kentucky senator struck out on his own and sought a slightly different image than his more extreme father, Ted and Rafael Cruz are pretty much joined at the hip. Pastor Cruz has been a frequent surrogate for his son and is popular in his own right as a sought-after speaker on the evangelical circuit. But the senator is now faced with the problem of having to delicately disassociate himself from his father’s recorded remarks in which he says he’d like to send President Obama “back to Kenya.”

As I wrote earlier today, racism is the third rail of American politics and liberals are always lying in wait seeking to brand conservatives as bigots. Most of the time this is a process that says more about liberal media bias than about the shortcomings of the right. But there is no denying that the elder Cruz’s crack about Kenya smacks of prejudice, not to mention a pander in the direction of irrational birther conspiracy theories. There ought to be no room in mainstream politics for this kind of thing and anyone who doesn’t push back strongly against it—and the left-wing equivalents—will deserve the flack that comes their way.

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Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have a lot in common. Both senators have engaged in symbolic filibusters this year against Obama administration policies and have led the charge against ObamaCare and the so-called Republican establishment. And both would also like to be president, something that could, if they run, place them in a fierce competition for Tea Party primary voters in 2016. But they also have something else in common: problematic fathers. While Rand Paul has the advantage of inheriting his father Ron’s existing fan base and supporters for his presidential run, as I wrote earlier this year, the elder Paul also presents an ongoing liability for a politician who aspires to be more than the leader of an outlier faction of libertarian extremists.

But if, as I noted, Ron Paul could be his son’s Jeremiah Wright, that is even more the case with Cruz and his father, Pastor Rafael Cruz. While Rand and Ron Paul have had separate political lives in the last several years as the Kentucky senator struck out on his own and sought a slightly different image than his more extreme father, Ted and Rafael Cruz are pretty much joined at the hip. Pastor Cruz has been a frequent surrogate for his son and is popular in his own right as a sought-after speaker on the evangelical circuit. But the senator is now faced with the problem of having to delicately disassociate himself from his father’s recorded remarks in which he says he’d like to send President Obama “back to Kenya.”

As I wrote earlier today, racism is the third rail of American politics and liberals are always lying in wait seeking to brand conservatives as bigots. Most of the time this is a process that says more about liberal media bias than about the shortcomings of the right. But there is no denying that the elder Cruz’s crack about Kenya smacks of prejudice, not to mention a pander in the direction of irrational birther conspiracy theories. There ought to be no room in mainstream politics for this kind of thing and anyone who doesn’t push back strongly against it—and the left-wing equivalents—will deserve the flack that comes their way.

As was the case with Paul, who dodged questions about recent intolerant statements by his father who left Congress this year, Cruz is saying his father’s remark was taken out of context and that he’s his own man anyway. Everybody has embarrassing relatives, but when you’re talking about a mentor rather than a black sheep like Billy Carter, it’s not easy to put the problem to rest.

Many of Paul’s supporters objected when I compared Ron Paul to President Obama’s erstwhile pastor and mentor Jeremiah Wright. No doubt Cruz’s supporters feel the same way. But the truth is Ron Paul and Rafael Cruz are both a bigger problem for their sons than Wright ever was for Obama. It’s true that Obama had the advantage of a liberal media that largely ignored the issue in a manner that Paul and Cruz can’t expect. But he still had it easier in another respect. A radical America-hating minister who married you and whose sermons you listened for 20 years is bad enough. But a father who was your political guide and often your surrogate is much worse. Especially when you consider that it won’t be as easy or as comfortable making them go away or be quiet as it was for Obama to silence Wright.

Of course, in some parts of the GOP base, Cruz’s remarks won’t be a problem. But that won’t help either man be nominated, let alone elected president.

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GOP Purge? A Tempest in a Tea Pot

The aftermath of the government shutdown has left the Republican Party badly divided. Some in the GOP are still wondering how they were suckered into letting Senator Ted Cruz and his supporters in the House shut down the government in a hopeless attempt to stop ObamaCare. But those who cheered the effort are not so much licking their wounds as they are licking their chops waiting for a chance to knock off some of the Senate Republicans who opposed Cruz’s rerun of the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Though he is far from the only Republican to draw the ire of the Tea Party, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham seems to be at the top of their enemies list. Graham earned the ire of some on the right for his sponsorship of the bipartisan immigration reform bill, his support for U.S. military intervention in Libya and Syria, and his open opposition to Rand Paul’s isolationist demagoguery about drone attacks. But most of all he is despised for his occasional willingness to work with Democrats and even President Obama on certain issues. As such, their problems with him are, as with much of the motivations for the call for internal GOP bloodletting, more attitudinal than anything else. And while there is good reason for skepticism about the willingness of most conservatives to jettison such effective advocates like Mitch McConnell, there seems to be a consensus that if there is any Republican who will be forced to walk the plank by his party, it is Graham. However, two new polls show that the claims of Tea Partiers that Graham will be toast in 2014 may be empty boasts. If these numbers hold up, it may be fair to say that if Graham can survive in the ultra-conservative Palmetto State, it’s not clear that any so-called member of the GOP establishment need fear crossing Cruz.

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The aftermath of the government shutdown has left the Republican Party badly divided. Some in the GOP are still wondering how they were suckered into letting Senator Ted Cruz and his supporters in the House shut down the government in a hopeless attempt to stop ObamaCare. But those who cheered the effort are not so much licking their wounds as they are licking their chops waiting for a chance to knock off some of the Senate Republicans who opposed Cruz’s rerun of the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Though he is far from the only Republican to draw the ire of the Tea Party, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham seems to be at the top of their enemies list. Graham earned the ire of some on the right for his sponsorship of the bipartisan immigration reform bill, his support for U.S. military intervention in Libya and Syria, and his open opposition to Rand Paul’s isolationist demagoguery about drone attacks. But most of all he is despised for his occasional willingness to work with Democrats and even President Obama on certain issues. As such, their problems with him are, as with much of the motivations for the call for internal GOP bloodletting, more attitudinal than anything else. And while there is good reason for skepticism about the willingness of most conservatives to jettison such effective advocates like Mitch McConnell, there seems to be a consensus that if there is any Republican who will be forced to walk the plank by his party, it is Graham. However, two new polls show that the claims of Tea Partiers that Graham will be toast in 2014 may be empty boasts. If these numbers hold up, it may be fair to say that if Graham can survive in the ultra-conservative Palmetto State, it’s not clear that any so-called member of the GOP establishment need fear crossing Cruz.

In the Winthrop University survey, Graham’s approval ratings were low, with 44.1 percent disapproving while only 39.7 in favor of his performance–though Republicans backed him 45.2 percent to 40.1 percent. Given that his approval ratings were in the 70s earlier in the year, that shows some real vulnerability. But when matched up against potential challengers, Graham doesn’t seem to have much to worry about.

These numbers were similar to the findings of a Harper/Conservative Intel poll about Graham’s approval ratings. But Harper also polled South Carolina Republicans about a possible primary matchup of Graham against his likely challengers and those results will give the senator’s critics little comfort. Graham leads the field of Republicans with 51 percent with his most formidable challengers, State Senator Lee Bright and Nancy Mace, trailing badly with 15 and 4 percent respectively. Graham also easily beats his most likely Democratic opponent in a general-election matchup 47 to 30 percent. None of this guarantees Graham reelection next year, as his challengers have plenty of time to raise more money and close the gap with the incumbent. But that gap is so large that their quest must still be termed a steep uphill climb at best.

What explains Graham’s seeming ability to hang on in one of the most conservative states in the union at a time when conservatives are calling for his blood? Well, one possible reason might be that even in South Carolina, the Tea Party is not as popular as some people assume it to be. The Winthrop poll showed that only 47 percent of Republicans had a positive view of it, a number that fell to only 28 percent when all South Carolinians are polled. It should also be noted that only ten percent of Republicans personally identify with the Tea Party.

That’s a stunning result in a state where, according to Harper, 69 percent of Republicans call themselves conservative. It also explains why the poll of Republicans about potential 2016 presidential candidates also showed that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was in first place, supported by 19 percent of South Carolinians while Cruz was in second with 17 percent, with the rest split among the various other GOP possibilities.

In other words, for all of Graham’s problems, he may not be in as much difficulty as his critics think. More to the point, South Carolina Republicans may not be marching to the beat of the Tea Party drummers calling for wholesale fratricide of GOP moderates in 2014. If it’s not going to happen there to Graham, that makes it difficult to argue that the calls for a Tea Party purge of “establishment” Republicans is anything more than a tempest in teapot.

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The War on Rational Conservatism

What exactly are conservatives arguing about these days? After listening to the latest speeches of Senator Ted Cruz denouncing his critics and reading Erick Erickson’s latest piece at Red State in which he angrily denounces the editors of National Review as “well fed” and complacent enablers of liberalism, I think those who are not already clued in to the subtext of the dispute would be forgiven for being puzzled about what it was all about. Those parachuting into this debate from the outside will struggle mightily to see what the two sides disagree about in terms of principles or policies and will discover little evidence of any actual split on anything of importance. All participants oppose President Obama’s policies and ObamaCare. They’d like to see the president replaced by a conservative at the next presidential election and ObamaCare to be repealed. But that unity of purpose isn’t enough to prevent what is starting to take on the appearance of an all-out civil war within the ranks of the conservative movement. Those on the right have grown used to seeing liberal mainstream publications and broadcast outlets doing stories about conservatives tearing themselves apart that are motivated more by a desire to fuel the dispute than any objective proof of a significant split. But in this case, it’s hard to avoid the impression that what we are witnessing is actually nothing less than a full-blown civil war among conservatives that may have profound implications for the outcome of both the 2014 and 2016 elections.

At the heart of this is the ongoing debate about the wisdom of the government shutdown that resulted from the Republican majority in the House of Representatives following Cruz’s advice about tying the continuing resolution funding the government to a proposal to defund ObamaCare. As many sober conservatives predicted, the strategy failed. It accomplished nothing other than to damage the Republican Party in the eyes of most of the nation, although it did burnish Cruz’s reputation among those on the right who think the GOP is an assembly of sellouts because they failed to accomplish the impossible. In response to calls from those who were correct about this for a reassessment, Cruz and his followers have begun a campaign whose purpose seems to be to trash all those who had doubts about the senator’s misguided tactic and to damn them as not merely faint-hearts but traitors to the cause of conservatism. That this is arrant nonsense almost goes without saying. But the longer this goes on and the nastier it gets, the more convinced I’m becoming that far from a meaningless spat that will soon be forgotten, the shutdown may become the impetus for a genuine split within conservative ranks that will fester and diminish the chances that liberals will be prevented from retaining their grip on power in Washington.

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What exactly are conservatives arguing about these days? After listening to the latest speeches of Senator Ted Cruz denouncing his critics and reading Erick Erickson’s latest piece at Red State in which he angrily denounces the editors of National Review as “well fed” and complacent enablers of liberalism, I think those who are not already clued in to the subtext of the dispute would be forgiven for being puzzled about what it was all about. Those parachuting into this debate from the outside will struggle mightily to see what the two sides disagree about in terms of principles or policies and will discover little evidence of any actual split on anything of importance. All participants oppose President Obama’s policies and ObamaCare. They’d like to see the president replaced by a conservative at the next presidential election and ObamaCare to be repealed. But that unity of purpose isn’t enough to prevent what is starting to take on the appearance of an all-out civil war within the ranks of the conservative movement. Those on the right have grown used to seeing liberal mainstream publications and broadcast outlets doing stories about conservatives tearing themselves apart that are motivated more by a desire to fuel the dispute than any objective proof of a significant split. But in this case, it’s hard to avoid the impression that what we are witnessing is actually nothing less than a full-blown civil war among conservatives that may have profound implications for the outcome of both the 2014 and 2016 elections.

At the heart of this is the ongoing debate about the wisdom of the government shutdown that resulted from the Republican majority in the House of Representatives following Cruz’s advice about tying the continuing resolution funding the government to a proposal to defund ObamaCare. As many sober conservatives predicted, the strategy failed. It accomplished nothing other than to damage the Republican Party in the eyes of most of the nation, although it did burnish Cruz’s reputation among those on the right who think the GOP is an assembly of sellouts because they failed to accomplish the impossible. In response to calls from those who were correct about this for a reassessment, Cruz and his followers have begun a campaign whose purpose seems to be to trash all those who had doubts about the senator’s misguided tactic and to damn them as not merely faint-hearts but traitors to the cause of conservatism. That this is arrant nonsense almost goes without saying. But the longer this goes on and the nastier it gets, the more convinced I’m becoming that far from a meaningless spat that will soon be forgotten, the shutdown may become the impetus for a genuine split within conservative ranks that will fester and diminish the chances that liberals will be prevented from retaining their grip on power in Washington.

I think Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru were on to something when they wrote in their National Review essay that sent Erickson over the edge that the problem behind the angst on the right is despair. I touched on the same theme in an essay in the Intercollegiate Review published last month as part of its symposium on what’s the matter with conservatism, as well as in a blog post published here titled “Tea Party Despair and ObamaCare.” Frustrated by the Supreme Court’s illogical decision that affirmed ObamaCare’s constitutionality and by the results of the 2012 election, many conservatives have more or less given up on conventional politics. Right now all they are interested in is a fight, no matter how quixotic. And anyone who won’t charge over the cliff with them strikes such people as something far worse than a political foe.

In response, Erickson and others who have written about this topic ground their attacks on the so-called Republican “establishment” as being analogous to the situation in the 1950s when William F. Buckley founded the modern conservative movement as part of a protest against the way Republicans had become enablers of the Democrats’ liberal agenda. Regardless of the political facts of the day, they say the only rational response of conservatives to the situation is to take a principled stand much like Buckley’s famous declaration that the purpose of National Review was to “stand athwart history” and to yell “stop.” Those who won’t do that are no better than the Republicans who opposed Buckley. Even more important, they say that those who are more concerned with Republicans winning elections even at the cost of their souls than standing up for principle really are RINOs and traitors no matter what their positions on the issues might be.

But it bears repeating there is a big difference between the state of the Republican Party when Buckley was first yelling “stop” and today.

Buckley and his allies were justified in trying to radically change the nature of the GOP because many of its leaders weren’t “timid” conservatives who were afraid of challenging the legitimacy of liberal government. Nelson Rockefeller and much of the GOP establishment of that time really were liberals and were not shy about saying so. Buckley had no interest in electing more liberals even if they called themselves Republicans, but he also famously said conservatives should always back the most electable conservative, not the most right-wing candidate.

The battle that was waged over the soul of the GOP over the next quarter century after NR’s founding was fierce because there were real ideological differences at stake. By contrast, Cruz and Erickson’s targets are not merely fellow conservatives but among the most conservative individuals and outlets in the country. Their sin is not the genuine dispute about the virtue of the welfare state and big government that drove the internal arguments in the Republican Party in that era, but rather one of attitudes. The editors of NR as well as hard-core conservatives like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are not blasted for their beliefs as Nelson Rockefeller and Co. were but because they differ with Cruz on tactics.

What we are seeing here is nothing less than a call for a Leninist-style schism on the right in which NR and McConnell are treated as the Mensheviks to the Tea Party’s Bolsheviks. Anyone who won’t hue to the Cruz party line isn’t merely wrong but, as Erickson’s piece seems to indicate, worthy of being read out of the conservative movement and denounced as betrayers.

This makes sense only if you are of the mindset that anyone not willing to shut down the government is indistinguishable from Barack Obama no matter how conservative they might be. As such, what we are witnessing is not an attempt to convert the Republican Party into a gathering of conservatives—something a previous generation of conservatives accomplished under the leadership of Ronald Reagan—but a war on rational conservatism whose only end is the immolation of the movement the Gipper helped build.

What does this portend?

It’s too soon to know for sure, but right now I’m starting to think that those inclined to pooh-pooh the chances for a genuine split are wrong. If that portion of the conservative base listens to Cruz and Erickson they are going to spend much of the next year trying to exact revenge on the senator’s critics. And if that means helping to knock off genuine conservatives like McConnell who will almost certainly be replaced in the Senate not by more Cruz clones but by liberal Democrats, they think it’s no great loss because such people are more interested in purifying the GOP than in beating the Democrats. Assembling a national coalition that could enable conservatives to govern is a matter of complete indifference to them and they seem openly contemptuous of the necessity of gaining Republican majorities and a Republican president in order to advance the conservative agenda.

This drama will be played out in many states next year in the midterm elections, but it will come to a head in 2016 when a single formidable moderate conservative may possibly be opposed by a split field of right-wingers in the race for the GOP presidential nomination. If so, those today yelling about the betrayal of Cruz are likely to be louder and even more self-destructive. A few more years in which Tea Partiers stop seeing themselves as the vanguard of the conservative movement but as members of a different political alignment altogether could lead to exactly the kind of right-wing walkout from the GOP that was threatened in 2008 and 2012 but never actually materialized. If so, we may look back on the aftermath of the shutdown as not just a foolish argument started by frustrated conservatives but the beginning of a schism that enabled the Democrats to consolidate their hold on power in Washington for the foreseeable future.

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Cruz’s Critics Aren’t Just GOP Establishment

Senator Ted Cruz is the darling of the Republican base these days. Though most observers on both sides of the aisle consider the government shutdown he helped engineer to have been a disaster for his party, many conservatives love the fact that he was willing to fight the president and the Democrats to the last ditch on ObamaCare. Some even believe his claim that had everyone in the GOP drunk the Kool-Aid he was handing out in the Capitol, the tactic would have succeeded even if there is no rational reason to think so. More importantly, many think that any Republican who warned that the shutdown was a dumb tactic without a chance of success is a RINO traitor and part of the problem in Washington to which the Texas freshman is the only solution.

This Cruz-inspired schism seems to be the main topic for discussion about the Republican Party these days, and made the Texan’s visit to Iowa this past weekend to give a speech a matter of more than passing political interest. His appearance in the first-in-the-nation caucus state highlighted the traction he has gained among Tea Partiers, and Cruz continued to milk it with barbed comments that were aimed just as much at less militant Republicans than they were at Obama and the Democrats. But when Rick Santorum called out Cruz on Meet the Press for hurting the party more than he helped it with the shutdown, it’s time to admit there is more going on in the GOP right now than a simple split between the Tea Party and the so-called party establishment.

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Senator Ted Cruz is the darling of the Republican base these days. Though most observers on both sides of the aisle consider the government shutdown he helped engineer to have been a disaster for his party, many conservatives love the fact that he was willing to fight the president and the Democrats to the last ditch on ObamaCare. Some even believe his claim that had everyone in the GOP drunk the Kool-Aid he was handing out in the Capitol, the tactic would have succeeded even if there is no rational reason to think so. More importantly, many think that any Republican who warned that the shutdown was a dumb tactic without a chance of success is a RINO traitor and part of the problem in Washington to which the Texas freshman is the only solution.

This Cruz-inspired schism seems to be the main topic for discussion about the Republican Party these days, and made the Texan’s visit to Iowa this past weekend to give a speech a matter of more than passing political interest. His appearance in the first-in-the-nation caucus state highlighted the traction he has gained among Tea Partiers, and Cruz continued to milk it with barbed comments that were aimed just as much at less militant Republicans than they were at Obama and the Democrats. But when Rick Santorum called out Cruz on Meet the Press for hurting the party more than he helped it with the shutdown, it’s time to admit there is more going on in the GOP right now than a simple split between the Tea Party and the so-called party establishment.

Just a year and a half ago Santorum was leading the opposition to the establishment in the Republican presidential primaries. Though he failed to stop the Mitt Romney juggernaut, the long-shot candidate won Iowa and several other primaries and caucuses on his way to being the runner-up in the GOP race. Santorum clearly hopes to try again in 2016 and that explains, at least in part, his willingness to criticize a potential opponent like Cruz.

But in doing so, he illustrated that there are more than just two factions within the GOP. Cruz may be the leading spokesman for the Tea Party critique of Washington Republicans’ inability to defeat ObamaCare and the rest of the liberal project. But Santorum’s ability to tap into working-class resentments of a party that seems at times to be dominated by big business as well as his ability to speak for social conservatives should remind us that there are elements in the party outside of Capitol Hill or K Street that are not solely motivated by Cruz’s concerns about small government.

Of course, there is a great deal of overlap between Santorum’s core constituency and those who are attracted to Cruz. The same can also be said of many of the Republicans who supposedly fall into the category of establishment supporters because of their disdain for the shutdown strategy. Almost all Republicans these days want smaller government and oppose ObamaCare. But it needs to be understood that many of those who were appalled at the party’s embrace of a big-business establishment-type figure like Romney are not necessarily going to jump on Cruz’s bandwagon or accept his single-minded tactics that brand anyone who isn’t ready to follow him into every fight, no matter how quixotic, as a closet liberal.

Santorum’s dogged social conservatism seems the antithesis of the belief of a RINO, but even he understood that the gap between what he conceded was Cruz’s “laudable” goal of eliminating ObamaCare and a coherent plan to accomplish it was huge.

Moreover, Santorum reminded Republicans that the notion that Cruz is the face of the Republican Party today is laughable.

Unlike the Democratic Party, which has the president, there isn’t a leader in the Republican Party right now. That’s part of the reason for the mess and the confusion in the party. But that’s always the way it is with a party out of power. You have lots of different faces and those faces, as we’ve seen, they come and they go.

Santorum is hoping that his time as a leading Republican isn’t in the past tense, but we won’t know that for sure until we see whether his brand of religious conservatism can hold its own against that of Cruz, Rand Paul, or even Marco Rubio or Chris Christie. But while the latter may be the stand-in for Romney for GOP voters, the others will be battling each other for a share of the conservative vote.

The point here is not that Santorum or any of the other potential candidates can beat Cruz. Rather, the point to be gleaned from this exchange is that for all of Cruz’s recent notoriety, he is just one man in a party full of potential presidents with a variety of conservative constituencies rather than a mere standoff between Cruz’s rebels and the establishment. Those who think the only real story about the Republicans in the coming years is whether Cruz will lead a successful purge of all who opposed him are missing that.

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What’s Good for Cruz May Be Bad for GOP

The national media appears to be shocked at the hero’s welcome Senator Ted Cruz got when he returned home to Texas this past weekend. They are equally mystified at the applause the Tea Party favorite gets when he hits the road to speak in places like Iowa, a crucial state for those with presidential ambitions, where he will headline a GOP event this Friday. Though the government shutdown he helped engineer has crashed Republican Party poll numbers, Cruz appears to be living a charmed life lately as his attempt to blame the failure of his idea on less dogmatic Republicans is playing very well among the members of his Tea Party base. Where someone else might take this moment to engage in some introspection about what went wrong, Cruz has stayed on the offensive, and that’s exactly what his fans want. Which means that although chances of Republican success in 2014 seem to have diminished, Cruz’s stock is going up. And that is something that ought to scare not only mainstream Republicans who remain appalled at his ability to maneuver the GOP into a destructive shutdown but also fellow conservatives who are thinking about running for president.

Cruz may be reviled by the rest of the Senate Republican caucus, despised by the national media and even has been subjected to criticism by conservative pundits who rightly flayed him for a performance that did not achieve its stated aims and hurt his party. But it would be a mistake to confuse the bad reviews he has gotten for his role in the shutdown with an accurate reading of his influence or his chances in 2016. A few months ago, he was just an obnoxious freshman whose refusal to play by the Senate rules had given him a following on the right. Today, it must be acknowledged that the shutdown has made him a genuine power in the Republican Party who could well be heading into 2016 with a considerable edge over other conservatives.

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The national media appears to be shocked at the hero’s welcome Senator Ted Cruz got when he returned home to Texas this past weekend. They are equally mystified at the applause the Tea Party favorite gets when he hits the road to speak in places like Iowa, a crucial state for those with presidential ambitions, where he will headline a GOP event this Friday. Though the government shutdown he helped engineer has crashed Republican Party poll numbers, Cruz appears to be living a charmed life lately as his attempt to blame the failure of his idea on less dogmatic Republicans is playing very well among the members of his Tea Party base. Where someone else might take this moment to engage in some introspection about what went wrong, Cruz has stayed on the offensive, and that’s exactly what his fans want. Which means that although chances of Republican success in 2014 seem to have diminished, Cruz’s stock is going up. And that is something that ought to scare not only mainstream Republicans who remain appalled at his ability to maneuver the GOP into a destructive shutdown but also fellow conservatives who are thinking about running for president.

Cruz may be reviled by the rest of the Senate Republican caucus, despised by the national media and even has been subjected to criticism by conservative pundits who rightly flayed him for a performance that did not achieve its stated aims and hurt his party. But it would be a mistake to confuse the bad reviews he has gotten for his role in the shutdown with an accurate reading of his influence or his chances in 2016. A few months ago, he was just an obnoxious freshman whose refusal to play by the Senate rules had given him a following on the right. Today, it must be acknowledged that the shutdown has made him a genuine power in the Republican Party who could well be heading into 2016 with a considerable edge over other conservatives.

The disconnect between the way Cruz’s antics have played with the Tea Party and the perception of his conduct among the rest of the electorate, not to mention the Republican leaders, shouldn’t surprise anyone. Cruz was sent to the Senate by Texans to shake up the Senate and to oppose the increase in debt and the growth in federal power that ObamaCare symbolizes. Throughout his 10 months in office, he has consistently played to the crowd outside of Washington that isn’t interested in how laws get passed or the way politicians get things done in the Capitol. When Cruz tells the GOP base that President Obama and the Democrats would have cracked and given in on ObamaCare if only more Republicans had backed him, they believe it even if it flies in the face of common sense.

But while party leaders vow they won’t get pressured by Cruz and his friends in the House Tea Party caucus into another shutdown fiasco (as Senator Mitch McConnell keeps saying, the second kick of the mule to your head has no educational value), sticking to his rhetorical guns only makes the Texan more popular among those on the right who want no accommodation or compromise with Democrats even if it means a shutdown or a debt default.

The national polling numbers for Republicans as well as those in the generic congressional vote are getting to the point where the shutdown may have made some heretofore-safe GOP House seats competitive and some competitive races safe for the Democrats. The Republicans’ chances of taking back the Senate next year must also be deemed as having moved from even to a long shot. A year is a long time in politics. The ObamaCare rollout disaster and the president’s tin-eared refusal to adequately explain this problem may start the process of reversing the effects of the shutdown and make 2014 a good year for Republicans after all. But it is also possible that the idea that the GOP is run by a pack of extremists led by Cruz that is relentlessly pushed by the liberal mainstream media will take hold in the public imagination to the point where it can’t be reversed. Cruz’s increased notoriety may help depress the value of the GOP brand nationally to the point where the party may be in bigger trouble than anyone thinks.

But even if this worst-case scenario plays out for Republicans, don’t expect this to diminish Cruz’s hold on many conservatives. Indeed, by standing out in this manner and being willing to fight no matter how hopeless the struggle, he may have already become a conservative folk hero and leapfrogged over others who were hoping to run in 2016.

Cruz is a particular threat to Senator Rand Paul. Paul appeared to have expanded the libertarian base he inherited from his father into a faction that was big enough to fuel an effective challenge for the 2016 Republican nomination. But right now, Cruz’s anti-ObamaCare suicide charge appears to have supplanted Paul in the hearts of grassroots conservatives whose enmity for Obama and big government is boundless. Nor should other potential candidates like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal or 2012 runner-up Rick Santorum assume that Cruz couldn’t threaten their support among religious conservatives.

To note Cruz’s popularity on the right is not to assume that he is the inevitable 2012 GOP nominee. More mainstream candidates with better chances in a general election like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie or even Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker may be able to either win without competing for right-wing voters or transcend Cruz’s appeal.

But no one should underestimate Cruz at this point. Right now it looks like Cruz’s popularity on the right seems to have an inverse relationship to his party’s falling stock. If this trend continues, the GOP looks to be in big trouble next year and in 2016 even as Cruz becomes a credible threat to win his party’s presidential nomination. You don’t have to be a deep thinker about Washington politics or even much of a cynic to realize that perhaps this was the point of much of what we’ve just gone through.

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The Tea Party Mindset

It’s an interesting place in which I find myself. I share the Tea Party’s concerns about the Affordable Care Act and, more broadly, the threats posed by the increasing size, scope and reach of the federal government. I recognize the important role the populist movement played in the 2010 mid-term elections. And I wrote the other day that it’s important for there to be bridges built between the so-called conservative establishment and the Tea Party. Even still, I’ve found myself increasingly out of step with the Tea Party, for reasons that William Galston crystallized in his recent Wall Street Journal column.

Professor Galston, in writing about the Tea Party, relied on focus groups conducted by Stan Greenberg. As Galston reports

Supporters of the tea party, [Greenberg] finds, see President Obama as anti-Christian, and the president’s expansive use of executive authority evokes charges of “tyranny.” … ObamaCare is the tipping point, the tea party believes. Unless the law is defunded, the land of limited government, individual liberty and personal responsibility will be gone forever, and the new America, dominated by dependent minorities who assert their “rights” without accepting their responsibilities, will have no place for people like them.

For the tea party, ObamaCare is much more than a policy dispute; it is an existential struggle.

This analysis of the underlying attitudes of the Tea Party strikes me as basically right, based on my observations of the Tea Party and my own conversations and e-mail exchanges with friends and supporters of the Tea Party, during which I’ve both pushed back against their arguments and tried to understand their point of view.

My sense is they believe that America is at an inflection point. That we are about to enter into the land of no return. That demographic trends are all troubling and that the “takers” in America will soon outnumber the “givers.” That for many decades (or more) we’ve seen a “one-way ratchet toward ever bigger government.” And that a majority of Americans will become hooked on the Affordable Care Act like an addict to cocaine.

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It’s an interesting place in which I find myself. I share the Tea Party’s concerns about the Affordable Care Act and, more broadly, the threats posed by the increasing size, scope and reach of the federal government. I recognize the important role the populist movement played in the 2010 mid-term elections. And I wrote the other day that it’s important for there to be bridges built between the so-called conservative establishment and the Tea Party. Even still, I’ve found myself increasingly out of step with the Tea Party, for reasons that William Galston crystallized in his recent Wall Street Journal column.

Professor Galston, in writing about the Tea Party, relied on focus groups conducted by Stan Greenberg. As Galston reports

Supporters of the tea party, [Greenberg] finds, see President Obama as anti-Christian, and the president’s expansive use of executive authority evokes charges of “tyranny.” … ObamaCare is the tipping point, the tea party believes. Unless the law is defunded, the land of limited government, individual liberty and personal responsibility will be gone forever, and the new America, dominated by dependent minorities who assert their “rights” without accepting their responsibilities, will have no place for people like them.

For the tea party, ObamaCare is much more than a policy dispute; it is an existential struggle.

This analysis of the underlying attitudes of the Tea Party strikes me as basically right, based on my observations of the Tea Party and my own conversations and e-mail exchanges with friends and supporters of the Tea Party, during which I’ve both pushed back against their arguments and tried to understand their point of view.

My sense is they believe that America is at an inflection point. That we are about to enter into the land of no return. That demographic trends are all troubling and that the “takers” in America will soon outnumber the “givers.” That for many decades (or more) we’ve seen a “one-way ratchet toward ever bigger government.” And that a majority of Americans will become hooked on the Affordable Care Act like an addict to cocaine.

Assume this is, more or less, your mindset. If you love your country and believe it is engaged in an existential struggle, and about to lose – if tyranny is just around the corner — it might well create in you feelings of anxiousness, desperation, and aggression. And that can lead people to engage in battles you might not win because failure to fight will consign America to ruin. It is now or never.

You therefore end up supporting someone like Senator Ted Cruz, who promises to be conservatism’s 21st century Horatius at the Bridge – in this case leading a quixotic effort to force Senate Democrats, and President Obama himself, to defund his signature domestic achievement. And even if this gambit fails and damages your party and helps the very forces you oppose, so be it. There is glory in having waged the fight, even (and maybe especially) a losing fight.

In addition, this outlook creates rising anger at those whom Tea Partiers and their supporters thought were allies but in fact don’t really see the true nature of this apocalyptic struggle. They are part of the “establishment” – seen as passive, compliant, afraid, members of the “surrender caucus.” Going along to get along. Lusting for the approval of the (liberal) Georgetown cocktail set. Angling to appear on Morning Joe. Even, in a way, traitors to the cause. Which means there’s a need for a mass cleansing, the purification of a movement that can only come about by an auto-da-fe – directed even against those who agree with you on almost every policy matter. And so rock-ribbed conservatives like Senator Tom Coburn and Representative Pete Sessions are considered RINOs.

This is not, from my vantage point, a particularly healthy approach to politics or one moored to reality. You can believe, as I do, that President Obama is doing great harm to America, that his agenda is having an enervating effect and that we face deep and serious challenges.

But some perspective is also in order. We are actually not on the verge of collapse and ruin. This period is not comparable to the Great Depression or the period leading up to the Civil War or the collapse of Ancient Rome. And tyranny is not just around the corner.

This is, rather, a difficult time in some important respects – one that requires sobriety and wisdom, public officials of courage and good judgment who are willing to act boldly but not recklessly. The truth is that our afflictions are not beyond our ability to address them, that our society is a complicated mosaic that eludes simple, sweeping characterizations, and America’s capacity for self-renewal is quite extraordinary.

Beyond that is the importance of understanding that the life of a nation, like the life of an individual, includes ebbs and flows; that almost every generation feels as though the problems it faces are among the worst any generation has ever faced; and that setbacks are inevitable and that progress is often incremental.

A final thought: There is no question that a great deal of repair work needs to be done. But the growing sense among some on the right that a curtain of darkness is descending on America is both unwarranted and can lead people to act in ways that are self-destructive.

Without understating our challenges for a moment, I rather hope a figure will emerge from within the conservative ranks who is not only principled but also winsome, who possesses an open and flexible mind and has not learned the art of being discontent. A person who doesn’t find fulfillment in amplifying anxiety and anger. Who doesn’t dwell in the lowlands because he’s too busy aiming for the uplands. And who knows that this fallen world is not a world without hope.

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Who Lost the Shutdown Matters

Most of the nation is just glad it’s over. The government shutdown and the related debt ceiling showdown was widely seen as a symptom of political dysfunction that hurt the country and led to declining favorability ratings for everyone involved though Republicans suffered more in that respect than President Obama and the Democrats. Now that it’s finished, most of us may still not think highly of the government but the standoff illustrated that even a conservative-leaning country does not like the idea of things falling apart. We may not want things to go back to business as usual in Washington but neither are we enamored of the notion of letting it fall apart. Americans are understandably tired of the debate about what led to the shutdown and moving on to the next big thing or crisis. But Republicans are still arguing about just what happened. And that is a good thing.

 The GOP can’t just move on, as Bill Clinton’s supporters used to say about his misdeeds, in the wake of the shutdown. It must assess what just happened and sort out who was right and who was wrong. Doing so isn’t merely sour grapes or recriminations. It’s a necessary post-mortem on a disaster that must be conducted. That’s why it’s vital that the accusations that the Republicans’ humiliating surrender to President Obama was somehow the fault of those who were skeptical of the shutdown tactic is so pernicious. If the lesson that many in the GOP base draw from these events is that they need to listen and obey Senator Ted Cruz, they are not only fated to undergo more such catastrophes in the future; they are ensuring that the Democrats will be running Washington for the foreseeable future.

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Most of the nation is just glad it’s over. The government shutdown and the related debt ceiling showdown was widely seen as a symptom of political dysfunction that hurt the country and led to declining favorability ratings for everyone involved though Republicans suffered more in that respect than President Obama and the Democrats. Now that it’s finished, most of us may still not think highly of the government but the standoff illustrated that even a conservative-leaning country does not like the idea of things falling apart. We may not want things to go back to business as usual in Washington but neither are we enamored of the notion of letting it fall apart. Americans are understandably tired of the debate about what led to the shutdown and moving on to the next big thing or crisis. But Republicans are still arguing about just what happened. And that is a good thing.

 The GOP can’t just move on, as Bill Clinton’s supporters used to say about his misdeeds, in the wake of the shutdown. It must assess what just happened and sort out who was right and who was wrong. Doing so isn’t merely sour grapes or recriminations. It’s a necessary post-mortem on a disaster that must be conducted. That’s why it’s vital that the accusations that the Republicans’ humiliating surrender to President Obama was somehow the fault of those who were skeptical of the shutdown tactic is so pernicious. If the lesson that many in the GOP base draw from these events is that they need to listen and obey Senator Ted Cruz, they are not only fated to undergo more such catastrophes in the future; they are ensuring that the Democrats will be running Washington for the foreseeable future.

Let me restate, as I have done many times, that I think there is much that is admirable about Cruz as well as the Tea Party movement in general. His resistance to business as usual on Capitol Hill is refreshing and needed. Conservatives should be pleased about the fact that there is a core group of Republicans in the House and the Senate that understands that the power of government must limited and that the GOP should not be co-opted in order to assist the implementation of President Obama’s plans to expand it. The days of Republican leaders operating as, in Newt Gingrich’s memorable takedown of Bob Dole, “the tax collector for the welfare state” should be over. Moreover, ObamaCare deserved to be defunded. Indeed, it must continue to be opposed wherever possible, especially as its disastrous rollout makes clear just how much of a boondoggle this vast expansion of government truly is.

But there is a difference between principled conservatism and destructive zealotry. The willingness of Cruz to cynically call conservatives to arms this fall on behalf of a strategy that never had a prayer of success calls into question his judgment. Republicans cannot run the government with only control of the House of Representatives. The attempt to defund ObamaCare could not succeed and Cruz knew it. The fact that President Obama had been daring, even begging the GOP to try it, should have tipped off the conservative base that not only could it not work, but that it would materially damage their cause. And, to one’s great surprise (including Cruz), that’s exactly what happened.

But in the aftermath of the disaster, Cruz and some of the conservative talking heads on radio and TV who urged Republicans to go down this path are not taking responsibility for their mistake. Instead, they are blaming the surrender on other conservatives, especially Senate Republicans, for not blindly following Cruz. Others even insist that the GOP should have continued to hold out in the hope that the Democrats would crack, even if that meant extending the shutdown and even brushing up against the danger of a default.

To put it mildly, this is bunk.

Yes, there were plenty of Republican senators that warned that the tactic couldn’t work and urged the House GOP caucus not to try it. And they continued to call for compromise and demand that President Obama negotiate with the Republicans to end the standoff. But to assert, as Cruz and some Tea Partiers do, that it was this factor that enabled Obama to prevail is worse than instant revisionist history; it is an exercise in the sort of magical thinking that conservatives have always associated more with utopian liberals and Marxists than their own movement.

Even if no Republican had dared to mention that Emperor Cruz wasn’t wearing any clothes that wouldn’t have made President Obama any more willing to bend to the GOP’s will. He had no reason to do so since the longer the shutdown and the closer to default the nation got, the more blame his opponents would get for the disagreement.

Yes, part of this is a function of the liberal bias of the mainstream media. Life, especially for conservatives in Washington, is unfair. But it is difficult to blame even a biased media for the fact that some conservatives were willing to play Russian roulette with the economy, even if their motivation was a good cause like stopping ObamaCare.

So long as the Democrats control the White House and the Senate, ObamaCare can’t be repealed or defunded. That is frustrating for conservatives but that’s the price you pay for losing elections in a democracy. That doesn’t mean they must simply accept that ObamaCare is “the law of the land” and shut up. But it does mean they can’t overturn it even if they all held their breath until they turned blue on the steps of the Capitol. Understanding this doesn’t make one a liberal or a RINO or any of the other insults hurled at conservatives who criticize Cruz by his adherents. It just means you are a conservative who lives in the real world rather than the fantasy Washington in which some on the right prefer to dwell.

The “blame the establishment” meme we are hearing this week has little to do with a genuine belief that the efforts of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to craft a deal that ended this nightmare was the difference between victory or defeat. What is about is an effort on the part of Cruz and his crew to craft a myth about the shutdown that will enable them to evade blame for their mistake.

If conservatives listen to them and go out and spend the next year attempting to take down McConnell and other conservatives in Senate primaries, it will increase Cruz’s influence in the party. But it won’t give him more power in the Senate since success for some of the Tea Party alternatives in those primaries will mean, as it did in 2010 and 2012, that the Republicans will blow another chance to take back the Senate.

Having taken the party over the cliff in the shutdown, Cruz and friends seek to repeat the exercise in the future and that is why they are still doing their best to abuse those who knew better all along. If Republicans let them, they’ll have no one but themselves to blame for what follows.

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Tea Party v. Establishment — What’s Next?

Yesterday I was critical of Representatives Fleming and Harris for living in what I called a fantasyland, a dream world, in which they convinced themselves that the government shutdown and fight over the debt ceiling was a victory for the right. That is transparently not true; and if Messrs. Fleming and Harris believe it’s true then they are living on another planet.

But they hardly represent all, or even most, of conservatism, or even the Tea Party. For example, this morning on Bill Bennett’s (excellent) radio program I listened to Bennett’s interview with Representative Trey Gowdy, whose conservative credentials are beyond question. Mr. Gowdy spoke honestly and self-reflectively about what went wrong and what needs to be done going forward. According to Representative Gowdy, the mistake of House Republicans (and by implication Senator Cruz and his allies in the Senate) was that they took an unpopular law, the Affordable Care Act, and hurt themselves by going after it with an even more unpopular tactic — a willingness to shut down the government and not raise the debt ceiling if ObamaCare were not defunded.

That is by my lights precisely what happened, and what many people warned in advance would happen. For now, though, what matters most is to turn what happened into a “teachable moment,” to use a favorite phrase from President Obama.

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Yesterday I was critical of Representatives Fleming and Harris for living in what I called a fantasyland, a dream world, in which they convinced themselves that the government shutdown and fight over the debt ceiling was a victory for the right. That is transparently not true; and if Messrs. Fleming and Harris believe it’s true then they are living on another planet.

But they hardly represent all, or even most, of conservatism, or even the Tea Party. For example, this morning on Bill Bennett’s (excellent) radio program I listened to Bennett’s interview with Representative Trey Gowdy, whose conservative credentials are beyond question. Mr. Gowdy spoke honestly and self-reflectively about what went wrong and what needs to be done going forward. According to Representative Gowdy, the mistake of House Republicans (and by implication Senator Cruz and his allies in the Senate) was that they took an unpopular law, the Affordable Care Act, and hurt themselves by going after it with an even more unpopular tactic — a willingness to shut down the government and not raise the debt ceiling if ObamaCare were not defunded.

That is by my lights precisely what happened, and what many people warned in advance would happen. For now, though, what matters most is to turn what happened into a “teachable moment,” to use a favorite phrase from President Obama.

I for one found Representative Gowdy’s candor and open-mindedness refreshing and encouraging. And as we move past the shutdown and the debt ceiling debacle, which inflamed passions on the right, it’s worth having people on both sides work toward bridging the divide that exists between the Tea Party and to so-called “establishment.”

To be sure, some of the divisions are significant and shouldn’t be glossed over (I for one certainly made my differences with Senator Cruz crystal clear). And both sides are of course free to critique the other, in the spirit of iron sharpening iron. Artificial rapprochements tend not to last. At the same time, it’s worth bearing in mind that the intra-conservative dispute we’ve just gone through wasn’t over ends but means. They were, at least in some important respects, tactical differences rather than strategic and substantive ones. Every conservative I know wants the Affordable Care Act undone; the question has always been how best to do that, and how best to mitigate the damage and strengthen the conservative cause given the political alignment that exists.

So yes, important differences – including differences over tone and temperament, over what is prudent and achievable, and what a genuine conservative cast of mind means – emerged during the last several weeks. Those differences are real and shouldn’t (and won’t) be ignored. But if conservatism is to be advanced, it will require some effort to find common ground and join in common cause. For those in each camp to appreciate what the other brings to the debate. We’ll see if that happens. My guess is it will, though it may require a bit more time for the intensity of this most recent battle to subside.

We’ll know soon enough.

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Can the Obama Revival Succeed?

Give the architects of the Republican attempt to use the threat of a shutdown to stop ObamaCare funding some credit. They have done what few of us thought was possible only a couple of months ago. In August, even liberals were discussing President Obama’s slide into irrelevancy as he morphed from a re-elected president to a scandal-plagued lame duck. Yet after several months of a weak economy, failed legislative initiatives, domestic scandals and foreign humiliations, the president was able to emerge today and rightly claim victory over conservatives in the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis. In the best humble brag fashion, he claimed no one had won in the shutdown but having worked hard to bring just such a confrontation about for the past two years, it’s obvious that he has emerged as the strongest player in the capital from the political chaos that has just concluded.

It bears repeating that had Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee and their friends in the House of Representatives not coaxed House Speaker John Boehner into going along with a strategy that had no chance of succeeding, conservatives could have used the last two weeks highlighting the disastrous ObamaCare rollout. But instead of focusing the country on this classic illustration about the perils of big government, Obama was able to stand before the country today and extol the virtues of government in a way that would have been difficult had not conservatives played right into his hands.

But now that the GOP is picking itself off the floor after their humiliating surrender yesterday, the question remains as to whether the president has regained enough momentum to score some other victories over them in the coming months. It is difficult to gauge exactly how much political capital the president has gotten out of his tough guy approach to the shutdown. But even if we concede that he is certainly a lot stronger than he was two months ago, he is not likely to enjoy another such moment of triumph again. That is, provided that Boehner and the rest of the Republican Party don’t let Cruz anywhere near the driver’s wheel again.

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Give the architects of the Republican attempt to use the threat of a shutdown to stop ObamaCare funding some credit. They have done what few of us thought was possible only a couple of months ago. In August, even liberals were discussing President Obama’s slide into irrelevancy as he morphed from a re-elected president to a scandal-plagued lame duck. Yet after several months of a weak economy, failed legislative initiatives, domestic scandals and foreign humiliations, the president was able to emerge today and rightly claim victory over conservatives in the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis. In the best humble brag fashion, he claimed no one had won in the shutdown but having worked hard to bring just such a confrontation about for the past two years, it’s obvious that he has emerged as the strongest player in the capital from the political chaos that has just concluded.

It bears repeating that had Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee and their friends in the House of Representatives not coaxed House Speaker John Boehner into going along with a strategy that had no chance of succeeding, conservatives could have used the last two weeks highlighting the disastrous ObamaCare rollout. But instead of focusing the country on this classic illustration about the perils of big government, Obama was able to stand before the country today and extol the virtues of government in a way that would have been difficult had not conservatives played right into his hands.

But now that the GOP is picking itself off the floor after their humiliating surrender yesterday, the question remains as to whether the president has regained enough momentum to score some other victories over them in the coming months. It is difficult to gauge exactly how much political capital the president has gotten out of his tough guy approach to the shutdown. But even if we concede that he is certainly a lot stronger than he was two months ago, he is not likely to enjoy another such moment of triumph again. That is, provided that Boehner and the rest of the Republican Party don’t let Cruz anywhere near the driver’s wheel again.

It needs to be remembered that one aspect of the president’s victory speech today was true. There were no true winners in the shutdown because, as the polls consistently showed, everyone in Washington has suffered a decline in popularity including the president and the Democrats. Republicans are, of course, in a worse position than the Democrats as surveys showed that anywhere from 10 to 20 percentage points more people though the GOP deserved more of the blame for the shutdown than the Democrats. But every poll has also showed negative favorability ratings for the President and his party too. Any other president who got only a 37 percent favorable rating (as was the case in one AP poll last week) would be considered to be in a free fall as was the case the last time it happened during George W. Bush’s second term.

The next big fight will be in the budget negotiations that will soon start as Congress begins the slow motion prelude to the next threat of a shutdown or debt ceiling expiration. The president’s “no negotiations” stance during the shutdown was irresponsible and helped precipitate the crisis but it also strengthened his standing with his supporters. After that performance, it is not likely that Republicans can be persuaded to think that he will blink the next time the two parties go to the brink.

But if the GOP can avoid be tagged with threats of shutdowns and defaults, they will remember that talks about reforming entitlements and cutting spending are their strong points. The acceptance of the sequester — which may not be ideal but has illustrated that cutting spending is possible — has shown that they’ve largely won the argument about the need to reduce expenditures and the debt. So long as Cruz and Lee are not allowed to steer the GOP into another ditch, Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stand a good chance of gaining a far more favorable resolution of the next budget crisis.

Nor can the president assume he will win on other issues, such as his desire for a comprehensive farm bill boondoggle or even on immigration reform, where he can count on the support of many Republicans. As his failed effort to get gun control legislation through Congress earlier this year showed, the president has no talent for building coalitions or persuading people to compromise. That’s because he is personally allergic to the concept and openly contemptuous of his political foes in a way that makes it impossible for him to win them over even when it might be in their interests to join with him.

Once he lost control of both houses of Congress in 2010 after the public punished the Democrats for the stimulus and ObamaCare, we found out this is a president who can only win when the GOP hands him a victory on a silver platter. Without such aid, he will always falter due to his lack of leadership and decisiveness. And he will continue to be dogged by the ongoing failure of ObamaCare whose negative impact on the economy will soon overshadow the talk about the damage down by the shutdown. Those factors should weigh more heavily in voters’ minds next November than Cruz’s antics, leaving the president even weaker in his final two years in office.

This is a good day for the president and he would be a fool not to try and use it as the launching point for a political counter-offensive aimed at making us forget how miserable the first nine months of 2013 were for him. But unless the Republicans blow themselves up again without much Democratic assistance, this may be as good as it gets until it’s time to pack up and go home.

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