Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ted Cruz

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

The Right’s Epistemic Closure

In a story in the Washington Post, we read this:

And despite what most see as a debacle for Republicans, a core group of conservatives insisted Tuesday that they are winning their battle to force concessions from Democrats on fiscal issues.

The president, they say, has been forced into a negotiation, even though he has said he will cede nothing in exchange for opening the government and raising the debt ceiling. The nation’s attention has been focused on problems with the health-care law. And, they say, making Boehner move to the right is itself a victory.

“People said, ‘Don’t dare shut the government down, because the American people will hate you.’ And we’ve got resolve,” said Rep. John Fleming (La.). Fleming backed Boehner’s approach Tuesday morning.

“We’ve won in a lot of ways,” he said. “There are a lot of barriers we’ve broken down here.”

That’s not all:

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) said conservatives have succeeded in exposing problems with the health-care law.

“Oh my gosh, we’ve lit up Obamacare for the whole nation,” he said, describing what his wing of the party had won in the shutdown. “Look, the rollout was atrocious, this is a fundamentally flawed plan, and we have made it crystal-clear to the American public that we stand with them on Obamacare.”

This is fairly extraordinary. The results of the approach first championed by Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, and embraced by a significant number of House Republicans, resulted in (a) no substantive changes to the Affordable Care Act; (b) an increase in its popularity; (c) diverting attention away from the epically incompetent roll out of the new health care exchanges; (d) the GOP’s popularity dropping to the lowest point for either party since Gallup began asking the question in 1992; (e) more than washing away the gains Republicans had made on the issues over the course of this year; (f) reviving the Obama presidency, which until the shutdown was drifting and suffering a terrible year; and (g) set back GOP prospects in the 2014 mid-term elections.

Read More

In a story in the Washington Post, we read this:

And despite what most see as a debacle for Republicans, a core group of conservatives insisted Tuesday that they are winning their battle to force concessions from Democrats on fiscal issues.

The president, they say, has been forced into a negotiation, even though he has said he will cede nothing in exchange for opening the government and raising the debt ceiling. The nation’s attention has been focused on problems with the health-care law. And, they say, making Boehner move to the right is itself a victory.

“People said, ‘Don’t dare shut the government down, because the American people will hate you.’ And we’ve got resolve,” said Rep. John Fleming (La.). Fleming backed Boehner’s approach Tuesday morning.

“We’ve won in a lot of ways,” he said. “There are a lot of barriers we’ve broken down here.”

That’s not all:

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) said conservatives have succeeded in exposing problems with the health-care law.

“Oh my gosh, we’ve lit up Obamacare for the whole nation,” he said, describing what his wing of the party had won in the shutdown. “Look, the rollout was atrocious, this is a fundamentally flawed plan, and we have made it crystal-clear to the American public that we stand with them on Obamacare.”

This is fairly extraordinary. The results of the approach first championed by Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, and embraced by a significant number of House Republicans, resulted in (a) no substantive changes to the Affordable Care Act; (b) an increase in its popularity; (c) diverting attention away from the epically incompetent roll out of the new health care exchanges; (d) the GOP’s popularity dropping to the lowest point for either party since Gallup began asking the question in 1992; (e) more than washing away the gains Republicans had made on the issues over the course of this year; (f) reviving the Obama presidency, which until the shutdown was drifting and suffering a terrible year; and (g) set back GOP prospects in the 2014 mid-term elections.

Apart from that, it was a huge success.

People like Representatives Fleming and Harris are living in a closed world, a fantasy land, a fairy tale. They seem to be impervious to evidence — even overwhelming evidence — that contradicts what they believe. And so they have convinced themselves that the disaster engineered by a significant group of House Republicans, following the lead of Ted Cruz & Company, was a success.

Is what we’re seeing simply ludicrous spin, or something else that goes deeper? Is it a species of delusion that is rooted in epistemic closure? Neither explanation is good, but the latter is, from the perspective of one who deeply cares about conservatism, much more worrisome. And I suspect that it is, unfortunately, a good deal closer to the truth. 

Read Less

Cruz’s Lack of Surprise is Surprising

Senator Ted Cruz reacted to the collapse of the strategy that he had urged on the Republican Party with remarkable sangfroid today. While saying that he would not seek to block the agreement to end the shutdown, Cruz tacitly conceded that he had lost. But he predictably blamed it all on the weak willed “Washington establishment” that refused to listen to the voice of the people and trash ObamaCare and thereby preserved the “status quo.” There’s an element of truth to that as most politicians could use a little shaking up and where Cruz to limit it his activity to messing up the establishment’s hair on a regular basis rather than bullying his party into suicidal tactics, he would not deserve the opprobrium that is being launched in his direction today. But the key phrase he kept repeating today was that he was “not surprised.”

Oh really, senator?

Wasn’t it Cruz who told Republicans that if they only went along with him and passed a bill funding the government while eliminating money for ObamaCare, that the other side would blink? If he wasn’t surprised that this happened, that means, contrary to what he had been telling us for months, he knew very well that this was the only possible outcome for the shutdown. If he knew this would happen, why did he keep saying that the GOP would win if it held out? As such, instead of railing at the insincerity and corruption of the establishment, Tea Partiers and other conservatives who rightly wish to stop ObamaCare, should be asking some tough questions about Cruz’s cynicism.

Read More

Senator Ted Cruz reacted to the collapse of the strategy that he had urged on the Republican Party with remarkable sangfroid today. While saying that he would not seek to block the agreement to end the shutdown, Cruz tacitly conceded that he had lost. But he predictably blamed it all on the weak willed “Washington establishment” that refused to listen to the voice of the people and trash ObamaCare and thereby preserved the “status quo.” There’s an element of truth to that as most politicians could use a little shaking up and where Cruz to limit it his activity to messing up the establishment’s hair on a regular basis rather than bullying his party into suicidal tactics, he would not deserve the opprobrium that is being launched in his direction today. But the key phrase he kept repeating today was that he was “not surprised.”

Oh really, senator?

Wasn’t it Cruz who told Republicans that if they only went along with him and passed a bill funding the government while eliminating money for ObamaCare, that the other side would blink? If he wasn’t surprised that this happened, that means, contrary to what he had been telling us for months, he knew very well that this was the only possible outcome for the shutdown. If he knew this would happen, why did he keep saying that the GOP would win if it held out? As such, instead of railing at the insincerity and corruption of the establishment, Tea Partiers and other conservatives who rightly wish to stop ObamaCare, should be asking some tough questions about Cruz’s cynicism.

Though Cruz appears to be positioning himself to blame members of his own party — the so-called “surrender caucus” — for the failure of this tactic, let’s have a moment of clarity before the recriminations formally begin.

The shutdown ploy didn’t fail because Republicans failed Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and the rest of the crew that pushed them down this path. The GOP did stick together as he urged them to do through 16 days of a government shutdown as their poll ratings plummeted and the nation grew increasingly uneasy at the spectacle of Washington dysfunction. It failed because, as more sensible conservatives had warned all along, it was a strategy without a path to victory. All the Democrats had to do was to hang tough and wait out the Republicans. Though it took longer than most observers thought it would, that’s what happened. Since even Cruz knows that the GOP can’t countenance anything that even smacks of a defaulting on the national debt, after “fighting the good fight,” House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had to throw in the towel.

The cause for which Cruz and other Tea Partiers labored here was a good one. ObamaCare is a disaster and should be stopped. And if the country hadn’t spent the last two weeks obsessing about the shutdown and the debt ceiling, maybe more of the mainstream media would have been forced to expend their resources covering the fiasco that was its rollout.

Nor are President Obama and the Democrats blameless here. Their refusal to negotiate with Boehner and the Republicans until the latter were forced to surrender almost unconditionally was irresponsible. So, too, were the administration’s efforts to exacerbate the effects of the shutdown.

But the bottom line is that Ted Cruz charted a course for his party that he knew all along would result in a catastrophic failure and never acknowledged that truth or sought to change course. For all of his self righteous anger at the establishment — much of which I would concede is at times entirely appropriate — what he has done is every bit as cynical as anything DC veterans have done.

While the Republican Party will recover from this debacle and live to fight another day on budget issues, entitlement reform, the debt and ObamaCare, it has been materially damaged by the strategy Cruz recklessly advocated. For that he should be held as accountable. For all of his virtues, and they are not inconsiderable, if the GOP is to eventually prevail on these issues in the future one thing is clear: it won’t happen under the leadership of Cruz or anyone like him.

Read Less

Is the Shutdown Caucus Happy Now?

Yesterday’s farcical failure of House Speaker John Boehner to get enough members of his own party to commit to supporting his compromise measure to reopen the government and extend the debt ceiling told us all we needed to know about just how dysfunctional the Republican caucus has become. As I noted yesterday, Boehner’s measure was an acceptance of reality. The GOP has lost the shutdown fight and the only thing that is yet to be determined is the terms of surrender. Boehner tried to give his party a slightly larger fig leaf than the Senate Republicans were able to coax out of Harry Reid. But conservative hardliners were having none of it. Even at this late date and with the debt-ceiling deadline hanging over them, they wouldn’t go along with Boehner forcing him to withdraw his proposal and leaving the field to a Senate bill. That will likely mean that in order to avoid even the theoretical danger of default, Boehner may have to simply let the Senate bill onto the House floor for a vote where it will pass on the strength of Democratic votes along with a minority of Republicans.

In other words, after weeks of suffering the opprobrium of the mainstream media as well as increasing the distrust felt by many Americans for their party, what exactly did the GOP accomplish via the shutdown tactic?

Did trying a government shutdown defund ObamaCare? No. Did it force President Obama to make a single tangible concession to Republicans or give way on something that would help them fight the battle against growing deficits and debt or the ObamaCare fiasco further down the line? No. Did it weaken and further divide the Republican Party? Yes.

That leaves us with one more question: Are those that egged Boehner on to force a shutdown fight happy with these results?

Read More

Yesterday’s farcical failure of House Speaker John Boehner to get enough members of his own party to commit to supporting his compromise measure to reopen the government and extend the debt ceiling told us all we needed to know about just how dysfunctional the Republican caucus has become. As I noted yesterday, Boehner’s measure was an acceptance of reality. The GOP has lost the shutdown fight and the only thing that is yet to be determined is the terms of surrender. Boehner tried to give his party a slightly larger fig leaf than the Senate Republicans were able to coax out of Harry Reid. But conservative hardliners were having none of it. Even at this late date and with the debt-ceiling deadline hanging over them, they wouldn’t go along with Boehner forcing him to withdraw his proposal and leaving the field to a Senate bill. That will likely mean that in order to avoid even the theoretical danger of default, Boehner may have to simply let the Senate bill onto the House floor for a vote where it will pass on the strength of Democratic votes along with a minority of Republicans.

In other words, after weeks of suffering the opprobrium of the mainstream media as well as increasing the distrust felt by many Americans for their party, what exactly did the GOP accomplish via the shutdown tactic?

Did trying a government shutdown defund ObamaCare? No. Did it force President Obama to make a single tangible concession to Republicans or give way on something that would help them fight the battle against growing deficits and debt or the ObamaCare fiasco further down the line? No. Did it weaken and further divide the Republican Party? Yes.

That leaves us with one more question: Are those that egged Boehner on to force a shutdown fight happy with these results?

It still remains to be seen whether Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee will fall on their swords and try to delay or prevent the Senate bill re-opening the government from passing. It is also possible that Speaker Boehner may try one more last, likely futile, parliamentary trick to cook up a deal that will be marginally more favorable to conservative interests. But the odds are, by the end of the week, we’ll be talking about Congress having to clean up the rubble left behind by the brutal battle these two and their House Tea Party friends fomented.

It’s also likely that they will take no responsibility for this crushing defeat. If anything, we can expect that they will blame their failure to come up with a strategy that had a chance of success or even an endgame that would allow their party a dignified path of retreat, on more reasonable Republicans — wrongly called RINOs by some Tea Partiers — who looked on in horror as they goaded Boehner to take the GOP over the cliff. But let’s make it clear that what is happening now isn’t the fault of those who said all along that this wouldn’t work. It’s the responsibility of a faction that simply wasn’t thinking straight about the best way to advance their goals and wound up doing more damage to the conservative movement than the Democrats could have ever done without their help.

As bad as it looks now, having wasted the country’s time in this manner won’t mean the end of the Republican Party. Like any party that doesn’t control the White House, it will remain divided and prey to factional disputes. But it will survive to fight another day and, with luck, will still be in position to hold onto the House and maybe even challenge the Democrats for control of the Senate next year. Perhaps once the shutdown is over, the nation will turn its full attention to the debacle of the ObamaCare rollout, which is where it should have been all along.

But neither should we forget who were the architects of defeat this week. John Boehner may be the poor soul who will have to preside over the formal surrender to the Democrats who will rightly crow about how they stood up to the Tea Party and defended the president’s signature health care legislation. Cruz and Lee and all those House members who thought this was a good idea owe their party and the country a better explanation than the one we’re likely to hear. And if either ever seeks the leadership of the party in 2016, they should be called to account for what they’ve done.

Read Less

The GOP Chooses Surrender Over Suicide

After more than two weeks, it appears that a deal is in place to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. The bargain that has been agreed to in principle by the leaders of the Senate will kick the can down the round until early next year. It will end the current crisis before things get so messy that it will cease to be a political problem and become an economic one. But there isn’t much doubt about the fact that Republicans get virtually nothing out of it. After months of huffing and puffing about ObamaCare as well as the debt, the GOP is now in a position where it has to choose between spiraling the country into what could become an economic crisis or to concede that it was basically all for nothing.

At the moment it appears that House Speaker John Boehner will ask members of his caucus to vote for a House version of the deal that is so similar to that of the Senate that any distinction is purely theoretical. But some of the conservatives who goaded Boehner into setting off this showdown are saying they won’t wave the white flag and hand this victory to President Obama. Indeed, one of them said this to the New York Times about supporting the Senate plan:

“We’ve got a name for it in the House: it’s called the Senate surrender caucus,” said Representative Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas. “Anybody who would vote for that in the House as Republican would virtually guarantee a primary challenger.”

Huelskamp is blowing smoke about a primary challenge for everyone who votes with Boehner but he’s right that what he and other Republicans are being asked to do today is to surrender. But the question for him is the same one that could have been posed every day throughout this debate. What’s the alternative? Having started a fight without a strategy to win it or an endgame that could allow them to opt out of it without looking servile, it’s a little late to complain about a surrender caucus when the only other choice is a suicide caucus since allowing the debt ceiling to expire or to continue the shutdown indefinitely is not only bad politics but a blueprint for, as our John Steele Gordon pointed out yesterday, another recession or worse.

Read More

After more than two weeks, it appears that a deal is in place to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. The bargain that has been agreed to in principle by the leaders of the Senate will kick the can down the round until early next year. It will end the current crisis before things get so messy that it will cease to be a political problem and become an economic one. But there isn’t much doubt about the fact that Republicans get virtually nothing out of it. After months of huffing and puffing about ObamaCare as well as the debt, the GOP is now in a position where it has to choose between spiraling the country into what could become an economic crisis or to concede that it was basically all for nothing.

At the moment it appears that House Speaker John Boehner will ask members of his caucus to vote for a House version of the deal that is so similar to that of the Senate that any distinction is purely theoretical. But some of the conservatives who goaded Boehner into setting off this showdown are saying they won’t wave the white flag and hand this victory to President Obama. Indeed, one of them said this to the New York Times about supporting the Senate plan:

“We’ve got a name for it in the House: it’s called the Senate surrender caucus,” said Representative Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas. “Anybody who would vote for that in the House as Republican would virtually guarantee a primary challenger.”

Huelskamp is blowing smoke about a primary challenge for everyone who votes with Boehner but he’s right that what he and other Republicans are being asked to do today is to surrender. But the question for him is the same one that could have been posed every day throughout this debate. What’s the alternative? Having started a fight without a strategy to win it or an endgame that could allow them to opt out of it without looking servile, it’s a little late to complain about a surrender caucus when the only other choice is a suicide caucus since allowing the debt ceiling to expire or to continue the shutdown indefinitely is not only bad politics but a blueprint for, as our John Steele Gordon pointed out yesterday, another recession or worse.

At this point, the problem is no longer about who is to blame for this.

Yes, as I have noted many times, blaming it all on the Tea Party doesn’t tell us much about how it happened. President Obama and the Democrats are being just as ideological as the GOP when they say they will not accept the defunding of ObamaCare. It’s also true that the president has been hoping for a shutdown since 2011 because he thought it would damage Republicans. His refusal to negotiate made the standoff happen and his party is also suffering a decline in public approval as a result of it.

But let’s also not deceive ourselves about which side gave Obama what he wanted. Conservatives like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee pushed for a showdown because they assured us that if Republicans hung tough, the president would blink. Much to the dismay of many more sober conservatives, Speaker Boehner went along with them and the GOP did wind up hanging as tough as the Tea Partiers had demanded. But as just about everybody who didn’t drink Cruz’s Kool-Aid predicted, the Democrats also stood their ground. With control of the Senate and the White House, the Democrats have a clear advantage over the Republicans and used it. If Boehner is now looking for the exit sign from the dead end that his party’s hardliners backed him into, it is because there really isn’t a choice.

No doubt conservatives will try and cling to some of the fig leaves left the in the Senate and House versions of the deal and say they accomplished something. But this will be as disingenuous as the Democrats’ claim to be the adults in the room. This is a Republican defeat pure and simple and there’s no way to sugarcoat it. And they’re accepting it because the alternative is to do the country material damage and to dig an even deeper political hole than the one they’ve already dug for themselves.

If there is anything to be retrieved from the rubble of the shutdown for Republicans it is the hope that the budget conference that is part of the deal might enable Rep. Paul Ryan — the voice of principle and sanity in the GOP caucus — to move the discussion from the simplistic demands of Cruz and Lee to a more productive debate about entitlement reform and debt that will strengthen the party’s position.

But that’s a discussion for another day. The real story now is about a GOP decision between surrender and suicide and their inevitable vote in favor of the former. It’s a bitter day for Boehner but the ones who should really be eating crow are Cruz, Lee and all those who backed him into this foolish gambit.

Read Less

Why Ted Cruz is Now Discredited

I pointed out the other day that President Obama has unquestionably been hurt by the government shutdown, but Republicans have been hurt more.  

How bad is it for the GOP? 

The most recent Gallup poll shows the GOP is viewed favorably by 28 percent of Americans–down 10 points since September and the lowest number for either party since Gallup began asking the question in 1992. “The Republican Party is clearly taking a bigger political hit from Americans thus far in the unfolding saga,” according to the Gallup analysis.

Then there’s a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which (as Rod Dreher helpfully summarizes) shows the following:

  • Only 24 percent of those polled have a positive view of the GOP. Fifty-three percent have a negative view–a differential of 29 percent.
  • By contrast, 39 percent have a positive view of the Democratic party. Forty percent have a negative view–a differential of one percent.
  • Twenty-one percent have a positive view of the Tea Party versus 47 percent who have a negative view. 
  • Forty-seven percent say they want to see Democrats control Congress while 39 percent want to see the GOP control Congress.
  • Fifty-three percent believe the GOP in Congress is most responsible for the shutdown; 31 percent believe President Obama is. Thirteen percent believe both sides are equally at fault. Three percent don’t know.
  • Seventy percent say that the congressional Republicans are putting their own agenda over the good of the country; 51 percent say Obama is doing the same.
  • Forty-three percent say ObamaCare is a bad idea; 38 percent say it’s a good idea.
  • Thirty-nine percent favor defunding ObamaCare entirely, while only 23 percent believe this so strongly that it’s worth shutting the government down. Fifty percent oppose defunding.

Question 8 in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that the percentage of those surveyed who want a Congress controlled by Republicans is now less than 40 percent–a low since the fall of 2009. Read More

I pointed out the other day that President Obama has unquestionably been hurt by the government shutdown, but Republicans have been hurt more.  

How bad is it for the GOP? 

The most recent Gallup poll shows the GOP is viewed favorably by 28 percent of Americans–down 10 points since September and the lowest number for either party since Gallup began asking the question in 1992. “The Republican Party is clearly taking a bigger political hit from Americans thus far in the unfolding saga,” according to the Gallup analysis.

Then there’s a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which (as Rod Dreher helpfully summarizes) shows the following:

  • Only 24 percent of those polled have a positive view of the GOP. Fifty-three percent have a negative view–a differential of 29 percent.
  • By contrast, 39 percent have a positive view of the Democratic party. Forty percent have a negative view–a differential of one percent.
  • Twenty-one percent have a positive view of the Tea Party versus 47 percent who have a negative view. 
  • Forty-seven percent say they want to see Democrats control Congress while 39 percent want to see the GOP control Congress.
  • Fifty-three percent believe the GOP in Congress is most responsible for the shutdown; 31 percent believe President Obama is. Thirteen percent believe both sides are equally at fault. Three percent don’t know.
  • Seventy percent say that the congressional Republicans are putting their own agenda over the good of the country; 51 percent say Obama is doing the same.
  • Forty-three percent say ObamaCare is a bad idea; 38 percent say it’s a good idea.
  • Thirty-nine percent favor defunding ObamaCare entirely, while only 23 percent believe this so strongly that it’s worth shutting the government down. Fifty percent oppose defunding.

Question 8 in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that the percentage of those surveyed who want a Congress controlled by Republicans is now less than 40 percent–a low since the fall of 2009. As for the populist uprising against the Affordable Care Act that Senator Cruz promised? There’s evidence that support for ObamaCare has actually increased (see this analysis). 

As Jonathan (and Nate Silver) rightly point out, it’s far too early to draw definitive conclusions. Polls provide us with snapshots in time. They certainly don’t tell us everything. But they do tell us something. And the trends seem clear, and clearly worrisome, for the GOP. Which brings me to the concern many of us had with the approach taken by Senators Cruz & Co.–a group of men who, you’ll recall, demanded that Republicans shut down the federal government if the president didn’t agree to defund his signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act. 

The concerns about the approach used by Senator Cruz were several-fold: (a) it was misleading (there was no chance the Affordable Care Act would be defunded); (b) it was irresponsible (Senators Cruz, Rubio and Lee accused conservatives who disagreed with the Cruz approach as being de facto supporters of the Affordable Care Act); and (c) it chose to fight the president on the weakest available ground (as unpopular as ObamaCare is, the defunding idea was never popular with the public). It also deflected attention away from the disastrous rollout of the ObamaCare exchanges and blew to pieces a far more plausible strategy, which was to focus on delaying for a year implementation of the individual mandate (which has widespread popular support).

“I think it was very possible for us to delay the implementation of ObamaCare for a year until Cruz came along and crashed and burned,” according to conservative anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.

More broadly, some of us on the right were concerned that this kind of brinksmanship approach tends to hurt, not help, the party squaring off against the president, who brings to the battle tremendous institutional advantages. And while engaging in this fight wouldn’t produce any particularly meaningful results, what it might well accomplish is erasing the political advantage Republicans had built up over many months. That, too, appears to be happening. According to Gallup, the sharp drop in support for Republicans since September “contrasts with previous Gallup findings from just before the government shutdown showing the Republican Party making up ground on a few key issues.”

Such are the bitter fruits that resulted from the Suicide Caucus. But in all of this bad news there is something hopeful to be found: Ted Cruz has become increasingly toxic and may well have discredited himself with many Republicans and conservatives. He certainly should have.

Mr. Cruz’s actions weren’t wrong because they failed. They were wrong because they were ill-considered, imprudent, selfish, and harmful to his party and the conservative cause. He didn’t achieve anything he insisted he would–and, in the process, he set back conservatism in several respects. Liberals must be thanking their lucky stars for the junior senator from Texas. 

Read Less

Assessing the GOP’s Shutdown Blues

If Washington conventional wisdom is right this morning, Republicans are about to start walking away from the ledge onto which they climbed with the government shutdown. Indications are that the House Republican proposals for a short-term extension of the debt ceiling will be the starting point for talks that will end the shutdown as well as ensure that the U.S. doesn’t default. It’s far from clear what the GOP will get in exchange for giving up their leverage over budget negotiations, but no one expects it to be much. If so, President Obama’s stonewalling tactics in which he dared the Republicans to shut down the government will be vindicated. And hardly a soul is talking about the fate of ObamaCare, the defunding of which was supposed to be the whole point of the exercise.

Why is it ending now if indeed that is what is happening? Part of the reason is a sense on the part of House Speaker John Boehner that he’s played all the cards in his hand and that brushing up against the artificial debt ceiling deadline would be a political error as well as bad for the country. But the negative fallout from the shutdown can’t be ignored as an explanation for why the GOP leadership has decided to cut its losses. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released yesterday had the worst results yet for Republicans, with the gap between those who blame them for the shutdown and those who blame the Democrats now at more than 20 percent. While President Obama and everyone else in Washington looks bad too, the Republican Party’s approval ratings are now at almost historic lows. Given the rapid dive in the GOP’s numbers in recent weeks, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that this is the result of the shutdown that was forced on the party by Senator Ted Cruz and other hard-line conservatives over the objections of Boehner and others.

This gives those of us who have said all along that it was a mistake to force a confrontation over defunding ObamaCare, which was never going to happen, a chance for an “I told you so” or two. But any such recriminations on the part of conservatives who were derided as RINOs by Cruz’s suicide caucus and their devoted followers are being drowned out by the near-hysterical triumphalism emanating from MSNBC and other liberal bastions over the NBC/WSJ poll. But before Democrats start making plans for what they will do when they take back control of the House next year, a moment of perspective is in order. As bad as this looks for the Republicans right now, it’s not likely that anything that happens this week will affect the composition of the next Congress.

Read More

If Washington conventional wisdom is right this morning, Republicans are about to start walking away from the ledge onto which they climbed with the government shutdown. Indications are that the House Republican proposals for a short-term extension of the debt ceiling will be the starting point for talks that will end the shutdown as well as ensure that the U.S. doesn’t default. It’s far from clear what the GOP will get in exchange for giving up their leverage over budget negotiations, but no one expects it to be much. If so, President Obama’s stonewalling tactics in which he dared the Republicans to shut down the government will be vindicated. And hardly a soul is talking about the fate of ObamaCare, the defunding of which was supposed to be the whole point of the exercise.

Why is it ending now if indeed that is what is happening? Part of the reason is a sense on the part of House Speaker John Boehner that he’s played all the cards in his hand and that brushing up against the artificial debt ceiling deadline would be a political error as well as bad for the country. But the negative fallout from the shutdown can’t be ignored as an explanation for why the GOP leadership has decided to cut its losses. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released yesterday had the worst results yet for Republicans, with the gap between those who blame them for the shutdown and those who blame the Democrats now at more than 20 percent. While President Obama and everyone else in Washington looks bad too, the Republican Party’s approval ratings are now at almost historic lows. Given the rapid dive in the GOP’s numbers in recent weeks, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that this is the result of the shutdown that was forced on the party by Senator Ted Cruz and other hard-line conservatives over the objections of Boehner and others.

This gives those of us who have said all along that it was a mistake to force a confrontation over defunding ObamaCare, which was never going to happen, a chance for an “I told you so” or two. But any such recriminations on the part of conservatives who were derided as RINOs by Cruz’s suicide caucus and their devoted followers are being drowned out by the near-hysterical triumphalism emanating from MSNBC and other liberal bastions over the NBC/WSJ poll. But before Democrats start making plans for what they will do when they take back control of the House next year, a moment of perspective is in order. As bad as this looks for the Republicans right now, it’s not likely that anything that happens this week will affect the composition of the next Congress.

For a sober analysis of just how much the Democrats have gained from this episode, it’s instructive to turn to a liberal voice that has been silent for much of the last year: Nate Silver. Silver, the liberal statistician who rocketed to fame as the New York Times’s peerless blogger/prognosticator left the Grey Lady for what will presumably be further fame and fortune at ESPN (he started out as a baseball analyst before he began handicapping elections). But until his new sports site goes up, he’s resurrected his FiveThirtyEight.com blog and weighed in on the shutdown impasse yesterday with some insightful comments about recent events that should give liberals proclaiming victory some food for thought.

His half-dozen bullet points about the partisan confrontation may be debated, but I think they are largely right.

First, is his belief that the media is overhyping the impact of the shutdown. In a 24/7 news cycle, every big story seems like World War Three but, as Silver points out, other huge stories have already come and gone in the past several months like Syria, the IRS Scandal, Benghazi, or even last winter’s fiscal cliff showdown, and if you watch cable news or read the leading dailies, it’s almost as if they never happened. The notion that anything that happens this week or next, short of a real U.S. default (which is not going to happen no matter how the negotiations go) will have much of an impact on November 2014 is simply unfounded.

Just as interesting is his pointing out that the inspiration for President Obama’s decision to dare the GOP to shut down the government shouldn’t give Democrats much comfort. The 1995 government shutdown is widely believed to have badly damaged the Republicans and strengthened President Clinton. As Silver correctly notes, the GOP was not really hurt by the shutdown, as they held onto Congress the next year. There may be some who think it was a major factor in re-electing Bill Clinton in 1996 but count me among those who, like Silver, believe Bob Dole never had a prayer of being elected president, shutdown or no shutdown.

Third, Silver reminds us that the chances of the Democrats winning the midterm elections next year are very low. Given the paucity of competitive House seats (the Senate is very much in play with Democrats standing to lose seats) it would take a wave election for President Obama’s allies to succeed. But such a victory would be virtually unprecedented since it is virtually impossible for an incumbent president’s party to gain seats in the middle of his second term.

Silver also debunks the notion that this is purely the result of Republican gerrymandering since the allocation of seats is more the function of the way the two major parties have split along geographical lines as much ideological ones. For an excellent analysis about why blaming political extremism on gerrymandering is a myth read Sean Trende’s piece in RealClearPolitics.com today. As Trende notes, gerrymandering is an effect, not a cause, of partisanship. But the bottom line is that no matter how much bad press Republicans are getting today, the impact next year is likely to be minimal if not overwhelmed by subsequent events that may not be as favorable to Democrats.

Last, it is way too soon to understand what the result of this latest showdown will be and looking to ephemeral poll numbers (especially since they also have bad results for Obama and the Democrats) is a fool’s errand.

Republicans would do well to ponder how little was accomplished in the last two weeks as well as the responsibility of Cruz and others who are now in the process of walking away from the train wreck that Boehner will have to clean up. But while Obama and the liberals may be getting the better of the tussle today, there is no reason to believe any of it will help them unseat House Republicans.

Read Less

Ted Cruz v. The Reality Caucus

According to Politico:

Ted Cruz faced a barrage of hostile questions Wednesday from angry GOP senators, who lashed the Texas tea party freshman for helping prompt a government shutdown crisis without a strategy to end it.

At a closed-door lunch meeting in the Senate’s Mansfield Room, Republican after Republican pressed Cruz to explain how he would propose to end the bitter budget impasse with Democrats, according to senators who attended the meeting. A defensive Cruz had no clear plan to force an end to the shutdown — or explain how he would defund Obamacare, as he has demanded all along, sources said.

Read More

According to Politico:

Ted Cruz faced a barrage of hostile questions Wednesday from angry GOP senators, who lashed the Texas tea party freshman for helping prompt a government shutdown crisis without a strategy to end it.

At a closed-door lunch meeting in the Senate’s Mansfield Room, Republican after Republican pressed Cruz to explain how he would propose to end the bitter budget impasse with Democrats, according to senators who attended the meeting. A defensive Cruz had no clear plan to force an end to the shutdown — or explain how he would defund Obamacare, as he has demanded all along, sources said.

The story added this:

“It was very evident to everyone in the room that Cruz doesn’t have a strategy – he never had a strategy, and could never answer a question about what the end-game was,” said one senator who attended the meeting. “I just wish the 35 House members that have bought the snake oil that was sold could witness what was witnessed today at lunch.”

The reason Senator Cruz couldn’t answer a question about what his end-game strategy was is that he never had one. That was obvious right from the outset. His whole plan was based on an illusion, which is that Republicans had it within their power to defund the Affordable Care Act. That was never possible, even as Mr. Cruz insisted it was. Which is why it was a very bad idea.

All of this is worth keeping in mind the next time the junior senator from Texas decides he’s the True Conservative in American politics and those who disagree with him are part of the “surrender caucus.” It turns out his critics were part of the Reality Caucus, which is a far better one to have membership in.

Read Less

And the Shutdown Cometh

Visitors to this website know that I believe Republicans have badly mishandled the government shutdown. My view is that it was unwise from the get-go, since it set up goals that were unattainable–certainly the Lee-Cruz-led efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act, which was always a pipe dream, but also the effort to delay it a year (which was more reasonable but still not achievable). That meant that unless Republicans ran up the white flag in advance of a shutdown–which would have enraged many grassroots Republicans and Tea Party members and probably cost John Boehner his speakership–we were going to face a shutdown.

Why? Because Democrats were not only not inclined to negotiate; they actually welcomed a shutdown. And from their perspective, I understand why. The public is strongly opposed to a shutdown–and even before we experienced one, the public was more inclined to blame Republicans than Democrats for it.

In addition, the party that controls the presidency has huge institutional advantages in confrontations such as this. The president has a much larger bully pulpit and the ability to enforce discipline in a way a House speaker simply cannot. And while President Obama is not terribly popular at the moment, he is (unfortunately from my perspective) far more popular than the Republican House. The fact that the GOP is the more anti-government party won’t help them in terms of the developing narrative of this story.

Read More

Visitors to this website know that I believe Republicans have badly mishandled the government shutdown. My view is that it was unwise from the get-go, since it set up goals that were unattainable–certainly the Lee-Cruz-led efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act, which was always a pipe dream, but also the effort to delay it a year (which was more reasonable but still not achievable). That meant that unless Republicans ran up the white flag in advance of a shutdown–which would have enraged many grassroots Republicans and Tea Party members and probably cost John Boehner his speakership–we were going to face a shutdown.

Why? Because Democrats were not only not inclined to negotiate; they actually welcomed a shutdown. And from their perspective, I understand why. The public is strongly opposed to a shutdown–and even before we experienced one, the public was more inclined to blame Republicans than Democrats for it.

In addition, the party that controls the presidency has huge institutional advantages in confrontations such as this. The president has a much larger bully pulpit and the ability to enforce discipline in a way a House speaker simply cannot. And while President Obama is not terribly popular at the moment, he is (unfortunately from my perspective) far more popular than the Republican House. The fact that the GOP is the more anti-government party won’t help them in terms of the developing narrative of this story.

Beyond all that, I tend to believe that Republicans hurt, not help, themselves with these kind of high-profile confrontations. Brinksmanship isn’t something that tends to redound to the benefit of the GOP Congress–especially one that is so obviously pointless (since the end goal, defunding/delaying the Affordable Care Act, was never achievable).

As a result of all this, there’s more attention on the Republican Party’s role in the shutdown than there is on the implementation of the pernicious Affordable Care Act.

My concern is that this gambit will inflict damage to conservatism, erase the gains the GOP has made in recent months (when it has begun polling better on most issues than Democrats), and at the same time help revive the Obama presidency. That’s not the hat trick the right wants.

Now I may be wrong. Politics is rarely linear, often unpredictable, and so perhaps Republicans will emerge from the shutdown in better shape and the president in a weaker condition. We’ll see. But even if I’m right, we should be clear about a few things. First, it is President Obama and the Democratic Congress that is adamantine in their position. They are the inflexible and unyielding ones. They are the dogmatists in this drama.

Moreover, the hate rhetoric Democrats are employing is stupidly excessive. The charges that Republicans are (choose your crime and/or pathology) arsonists, anarchists, terrorists, jihadists, extortionists, racists, hostage-takers, and so forth and so on are reckless and unwarranted, to say nothing of tiresome and stale. It’s the sign of an intellectually exhausted party. And of course it is antithetical to the central promise of the Obama campaign in 2008, which was to bind up the political wounds in America and put an end to partisan divisions and divisive rhetoric. 

Republicans are pursuing a legitimate (though I think unwise) strategy to try to unwind a law they believe is malignant. They may be right or they may be wrong in their substantive analysis of the Affordable Care Act (I believe they are correct)–but in either case they are using levers that are available to them. Nor are they unreasonable, especially when facing a president who is himself obdurate and obstinate.

Make no mistake about it; Barack Obama and his Democratic allies wanted this shutdown, and now they have it. I just hope I’m wrong and that it’s the president, and not the GOP and the conservative movement, that pays the higher price for this latest governing debacle. 

Read Less

Intransigent Democrats and the Shutdown

With only hours to go before a congressional standoff triggers a government shutdown, the mainstream media is virtually unanimous in allocating the blame for this mess: it’s the Republicans’ fault. By choosing to demand that the price of a continuing resolution to fund the government is a delay of the implementation of ObamaCare, the GOP caucus in the House of Representatives has set in motion a series of events that, barring a last-minute compromise, will lead to a shutdown. Count me among those conservatives who believe this is a tactic with little chance of success. But that doesn’t mean the narrative that blames the GOP for all the bad things that will result from this dispute is true. Senator Ted Cruz and the rest of those who have led the rush to this precipice can be labeled as intransigent. They refuse to consider any option that will allow the president’s signature health-care legislation to be implemented. But they aren’t the only ones who are digging in their heels and refusing to negotiate. Indeed, not only are Democrats behaving just as unreasonably as their foes, they have been working just as hard as Cruz to get us to this point.

The fallacy at the heart of the conventional wisdom about today’s dilemma is that the Democrats are the adults in the room who are working to preserve the government while Cruz and the Republicans are having a tantrum that may well damage the economy as well as cause suffering to those who depend on governmental largesse. But as Senator Chuck Schumer admitted on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program today, the Democrats are simply refusing to negotiate with Republicans. That’s also been the consistent stand of President Obama, who signaled again over the weekend that he would veto any spending bill that defunded or even delayed ObamaCare. Republicans can be faulted for acting as if they can dictate policy while Democrats still control the Senate and the White House. But it is time for those who have been dumping on conservatives to admit that it is just as unrealistic for the president and his party to behave as if the Republicans don’t control the House, where all spending bills originate.

Far from seeking to avoid a confrontation, the president and his followers have been seeking this day for years because they believe a shutdown will work to their political advantage. There is no guarantee that if the president had actively sought a compromise, a reasonable accommodation could have been found. But we do know that the president has never tried that route. What’s more, he has done virtually everything in his power to goad Republicans into a confrontation that would shut down the government while denouncing them for doing so. His position in which there can be no compromise on the rollout of the fiscal disaster that is ObamaCare is no less fanatical and just as much rooted in ideology as that of Cruz.

Read More

With only hours to go before a congressional standoff triggers a government shutdown, the mainstream media is virtually unanimous in allocating the blame for this mess: it’s the Republicans’ fault. By choosing to demand that the price of a continuing resolution to fund the government is a delay of the implementation of ObamaCare, the GOP caucus in the House of Representatives has set in motion a series of events that, barring a last-minute compromise, will lead to a shutdown. Count me among those conservatives who believe this is a tactic with little chance of success. But that doesn’t mean the narrative that blames the GOP for all the bad things that will result from this dispute is true. Senator Ted Cruz and the rest of those who have led the rush to this precipice can be labeled as intransigent. They refuse to consider any option that will allow the president’s signature health-care legislation to be implemented. But they aren’t the only ones who are digging in their heels and refusing to negotiate. Indeed, not only are Democrats behaving just as unreasonably as their foes, they have been working just as hard as Cruz to get us to this point.

The fallacy at the heart of the conventional wisdom about today’s dilemma is that the Democrats are the adults in the room who are working to preserve the government while Cruz and the Republicans are having a tantrum that may well damage the economy as well as cause suffering to those who depend on governmental largesse. But as Senator Chuck Schumer admitted on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program today, the Democrats are simply refusing to negotiate with Republicans. That’s also been the consistent stand of President Obama, who signaled again over the weekend that he would veto any spending bill that defunded or even delayed ObamaCare. Republicans can be faulted for acting as if they can dictate policy while Democrats still control the Senate and the White House. But it is time for those who have been dumping on conservatives to admit that it is just as unrealistic for the president and his party to behave as if the Republicans don’t control the House, where all spending bills originate.

Far from seeking to avoid a confrontation, the president and his followers have been seeking this day for years because they believe a shutdown will work to their political advantage. There is no guarantee that if the president had actively sought a compromise, a reasonable accommodation could have been found. But we do know that the president has never tried that route. What’s more, he has done virtually everything in his power to goad Republicans into a confrontation that would shut down the government while denouncing them for doing so. His position in which there can be no compromise on the rollout of the fiscal disaster that is ObamaCare is no less fanatical and just as much rooted in ideology as that of Cruz.

Democrats can argue with some justice that the president’s reelection was based in part on his desire to preserve ObamaCare. But so long as he lacks a majority in both houses of Congress, the issue is not completely settled. Given that he has begun to postpone some elements of the program, it is not unreasonable that Republicans would seek more delay of a vast expansion of government power that may make health care less affordable despite the official title of the bill. Having passed it via a partisan vote after a ruthlessly cynical legislative process that did not correct its obvious flaws and unwieldy nature, Democrats are determined to carry ObamaCare through to implementation without ever listening to the other side. This may turn out to be good politics, but it is neither reasonable nor good policy.

There has been a good deal of criticism about Cruz’s tactics and the fact that he and other hardliners on the issue don’t appear to have a strategy to counter the Democrats’ intransigence. Whether or not it is fair, it is probably a fact that more Americans will blame the GOP than the Democrats for a shutdown. That’s why President Obama has been daring Republicans to do just that ever since the summer of 2011 when the first of a series of battles over the budget and the debt ceiling was fought.

But though Republicans might have been wise not to accept that dare, there should be no question about the fact that the president and his backers are just as responsible for the results of this brinksmanship as anyone in the GOP caucus. Had the president been willing to bend a bit on ObamaCare he would have enabled House Speaker John Boehner to come up with a deal that a majority of Republicans might have been able to live with. That he wouldn’t do so is the product not only of clever political strategy but his ideological inflexibility. Cruz’s belief that ObamaCare must be stopped at all costs has brought us to the brink today. But the same can be said of the president’s unwillingness to allow a delay in a job-killing program that is still opposed by the majority of the American public. He will stop at nothing to see it implemented. Democrats also won’t negotiate today because they fear it will set a precedent that will force them to compromise on other issues in the future. That may be clever politics but it should not be confused with good government.

We can hope that sanity will prevail in Washington today and that somehow a shutdown will be averted. But if it isn’t, Democrats will be every bit as responsible for that outcome as Republicans.

Read Less

Conservatives and the Excommunication Temptation

Earlier this week I appeared on a panel discussion hosted by the Heritage Foundation on “The Conservative Mind at 60.” During the event I highlighted three themes that appear in Russell Kirk’s A Conservative Mind (published in 1953) and made the case for why those insights are still crucial to the health and wellbeing of modern conservatism.

As for the themes themselves, Dr. Kirk was a great proponent of prudence, so much so that he listed it among his canons of conservative thought. He wrote about the importance of recognizing that “change may not always be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress. Society must alter, for prudent change is the means of social preservation; but a statesman must take Providence into his calculations, and a statesman’s chief virtue, according to Plato and Burke, is prudence.”

Read More

Earlier this week I appeared on a panel discussion hosted by the Heritage Foundation on “The Conservative Mind at 60.” During the event I highlighted three themes that appear in Russell Kirk’s A Conservative Mind (published in 1953) and made the case for why those insights are still crucial to the health and wellbeing of modern conservatism.

As for the themes themselves, Dr. Kirk was a great proponent of prudence, so much so that he listed it among his canons of conservative thought. He wrote about the importance of recognizing that “change may not always be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress. Society must alter, for prudent change is the means of social preservation; but a statesman must take Providence into his calculations, and a statesman’s chief virtue, according to Plato and Burke, is prudence.”

Here is how the aforementioned Edmund Burke put it: “The lines of morality are not like the ideal lines of mathematics. They admit of exceptions, they demand modifications. These exceptions and modifications are not made by the process of logic but by the rules of prudence.”



So prudence – not pugilism, not purity – is the cardinal political virtue. Practical wisdom, practical judgment, the ability to take the appropriate action at a given place and time, was considered by the ancient Greeks, by Christian philosophers, and by statesmen like Burke and Lincoln to be of supreme worth and value.

A second theme that runs throughout The Conservative Mind is the importance of taking into account particular circumstances when applying political principles. Dr. Kirk pointed out that Burke based his every important decision upon a close examination of particulars. Burke detested “metaphysical politicians” and “abstraction” – by which he meant, according to Kirk, “not principle, but rather vainglorious generalization without respect for human frailty and the particular circumstances of an age and nation.” And so, Kirk argued, principles are necessary but they must be applied discreetly and with infinite caution to the workaday world.

This leads to a third set of insights by Kirk, which is that human nature suffers irremediably from certain faults; that to aim for utopia is to end in disaster; that we are not made for perfect things; and that all we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society. In other words, we should not expect perfection in a fallen world – not from us, and not from others.

Which brings me to the here and now. There exists what might be called a conservative temperament. To be sure, such a temperament doesn’t preclude one from engaging in debates, with passion and conviction, to advance what one believes to be right. But what I do think is problematic are those who desire to excommunicate from the ranks those they perceive as apostates.

What do I have in mind? One example is the targeting of Representative Pete Sessions of Texas. As this article makes clear, Sessions, a rock-solid conservative who has a 97 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, is under assault from a super PAC, the Senate Conservatives Fund, for being a “Texas RINO” (Republican in Name Only) and a “wishy-washy” Republican who is willing to “destroy our freedoms.” And what is the grave and unforgivable offense committed by Sessions? He opposed the effort by Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and others to shut down the government if the Affordable Care Act isn’t defunded. (As the Wall Street Journal points out in this editorial, this gambit is premised on the belief that “if the House holds ‘firm’ amid a shutdown, then the public will eventually blame Mr. Obama and the Democrats, who will then fold and defund ObamaCare.” Which is about as likely as yours truly becoming the starting center for the Miami Heat next year.)

This excommunication impulse is becoming increasingly dominant within some conservative quarters. The issue is framed as a “litmus test” and conservatives are being told by prominent figures within conservatism that any Republican who votes against the Cruz strategy is not worth voting for ever again.

That position strikes me as injudicious. If a similar litmus test had been applied to Ronald Reagan when he was governor of California, when he signed into law a record tax hike and liberalized California’s abortion law, he would have been deemed insufficiently “pure” and unworthy of support.

Senators Tom Coburn, Jeff Flake, and John Cornyn – as well as scores of their colleagues in Congress – are hardly traitors to conservatism and the cause of self-government. They have not, in the words of a FreedomWorks fundraising e-mail, “betrayed you.” They simply opposed what they considered to be a bad (and fated-to-fail) idea. I believe they were right to do so; others obviously disagree. But the disagreement shouldn’t rise to the political equivalent of a capital offense.  

People should be judged in the totality of their acts. And the effort to portray the Cruz maneuver as a litmus test dividing real conservatives from RINOs is misguided. On some fundamental level it is also, I believe, at odds with conservatism as understood by many of its greatest exponents. It’s time to return prudence to its proper place in the conservative pantheon.

Read Less

Ted Cruz and the Conservatism of Illusion and Deception

I disagree somewhat with Jonathan’s earlier post on Ted Cruz. There are several things I found problematic about the effort by Cruz and Company to “defund” the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but perhaps what was most alarming, from a conservative perspective, is that it was an effort utterly detached from reality.

As I’ve argued several times before (including here), this whole gambit was based on the fiction, perpetrated by Cruz and others, that the Affordable Care Act could be defunded (without even a single Democratic vote, according to Cruz). That was never true. That goal was an illusion. A mirage. A delusion. And surely Mr. Cruz, an intelligent and well-educated man, knew it. There was simply no way a Democratic Senate and Barack Obama would abolish his signature domestic achievement. And defunding the ACA would require just that.

Read More

I disagree somewhat with Jonathan’s earlier post on Ted Cruz. There are several things I found problematic about the effort by Cruz and Company to “defund” the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but perhaps what was most alarming, from a conservative perspective, is that it was an effort utterly detached from reality.

As I’ve argued several times before (including here), this whole gambit was based on the fiction, perpetrated by Cruz and others, that the Affordable Care Act could be defunded (without even a single Democratic vote, according to Cruz). That was never true. That goal was an illusion. A mirage. A delusion. And surely Mr. Cruz, an intelligent and well-educated man, knew it. There was simply no way a Democratic Senate and Barack Obama would abolish his signature domestic achievement. And defunding the ACA would require just that.

No matter. Senator Cruz, along with several of his colleagues, convinced many grassroots conservatives and Tea Party members that the end game was to put a stake through the heart of ObamaCare, once and for all. If you sided with them, you were a principled conservative who opposed ObamaCare; if you were against them, you were part of the “surrender caucus.” This was cast as a Moment of Truth. 

Now the whole thing is being exposed for what it was – a game. And the (inevitable) failure by Cruz and the others will leave these people crushingly disappointed and enraged. They were led to believe something that was simply not true – and many of them still don’t know they were misled.

Beyond all that is the damage this inflicts on conservatism. Conservatism, after all, is a political philosophy that is (or should be) anti-utopian, empirical, prudent, somewhat modest in its expectations and firmly grounded in reality. That’s certainly not all that conservatism is, but those elements comprise it. Yet here we are, with a large part of the conservative movement having taken a journey through the looking glass.

This whole episode was a low moment for genuine conservatism. 

Read Less

Cruz’s Grand Gesture Deserves Respect

In the end, Ted Cruz didn’t mean it. Neither he nor any of his colleagues that had been urging Republicans to filibuster the House bill that defunded ObamaCare and which they had been previously asking for voted to deny cloture on the measure. The 100-0 result in the immediate aftermath of Cruz’s 20-hour filibuster that wasn’t technically a filibuster showed that he and other GOP senators like Mike Lee hadn’t taken leave of their senses. Had 39 other Republicans listened to them—and their ardent followers on Twitter who called anyone who said they would approve a vote on the bill RINOs—then the GOP would have been launching a government shutdown by a procedural technicality that would have made for some very bad optics and an impossibly weak argument. That showed good judgment on their part. The same can be said for Cruz’s talkathon that stretched from early Tuesday afternoon to noon on Wednesday.

As Bethany noted earlier today, the almost universal hostility that Cruz’s publicity stunt generated is as blatant an example of media bias as we are likely to get. A few months ago, the press transformed Texas State Senator Wendy Davis into a national heroine for her equally pointless filibuster defending late term abortion. But since most of the media likes ObamaCare almost as much as they approve of any kind of abortion, Cruz was condemned for taking up the Senate’s time. But Cruz’s stunt wasn’t the disaster that his critics are calling it. I disagreed vehemently with the senator’s efforts to create a standoff that could shut down the government in order to defund ObamaCare. But his marathon speechifying was neither foolish nor did it hurt Republicans the way a shutdown would. Instead, it did exactly what the hashtag created by his followers to celebrate the event wished for: It made Washington listen to complaints about ObamaCare.

Read More

In the end, Ted Cruz didn’t mean it. Neither he nor any of his colleagues that had been urging Republicans to filibuster the House bill that defunded ObamaCare and which they had been previously asking for voted to deny cloture on the measure. The 100-0 result in the immediate aftermath of Cruz’s 20-hour filibuster that wasn’t technically a filibuster showed that he and other GOP senators like Mike Lee hadn’t taken leave of their senses. Had 39 other Republicans listened to them—and their ardent followers on Twitter who called anyone who said they would approve a vote on the bill RINOs—then the GOP would have been launching a government shutdown by a procedural technicality that would have made for some very bad optics and an impossibly weak argument. That showed good judgment on their part. The same can be said for Cruz’s talkathon that stretched from early Tuesday afternoon to noon on Wednesday.

As Bethany noted earlier today, the almost universal hostility that Cruz’s publicity stunt generated is as blatant an example of media bias as we are likely to get. A few months ago, the press transformed Texas State Senator Wendy Davis into a national heroine for her equally pointless filibuster defending late term abortion. But since most of the media likes ObamaCare almost as much as they approve of any kind of abortion, Cruz was condemned for taking up the Senate’s time. But Cruz’s stunt wasn’t the disaster that his critics are calling it. I disagreed vehemently with the senator’s efforts to create a standoff that could shut down the government in order to defund ObamaCare. But his marathon speechifying was neither foolish nor did it hurt Republicans the way a shutdown would. Instead, it did exactly what the hashtag created by his followers to celebrate the event wished for: It made Washington listen to complaints about ObamaCare.

Cruz is the kind of politician for whom style often becomes substance. He is an equal opportunity bull in a China shop that has dissed GOP Senate elders as well as Democrats ever since he arrived on Capitol Hill. Though he is clearly as smart if not a lot smarter than most of his colleagues, his obnoxious personality is tough for most of them to take. The same goes for the media and even sections of the public. If I have doubts about him really being presidential timber it is not so much that I disagree with some of his stands but because I don’t believe anyone who comes across as a mean guy, as Cruz undoubtedly has to much of the public, could ever be elected president.

But this is a moment when credit must be given where credit is due. His filibuster was a model of reasoned argument in which he labored mightily to call attention to the fact that the American people are unhappy about the way a Democratic Congress forced ObamaCare down their throats. They are rightly worried about the way it will affect their own health care as well as the potentially devastating impact it will have on the economy as jobs are killed and costs rise. Call it what you like and acknowledge that like Rand Paul’s far less substantial argument about drone attacks in his filibuster earlier this year, his motivation had a lot to do with his desire to run for president in 2016.

But there is something grand about a filibuster and Cruz’s stand deserves the same applause that the media was willing to give to Paul as well as Davis.

As was the case with Paul—whose arguments I disagreed with—Cruz showed there is still space in our public square for principled and high minded debate on the issues. In an era in which sound bytes dominate and in which even most politicians generally shun traditional oratory with the gift for gab, filibusters are a unique opportunity for the participants to riff on big issues and do more than merely give cable news the catch phrases they are asking for. Filibusters give the Senate the kind of glamour that was once associated with it in bygone eras and even if we are well rid of some of the traditions of the past they raise the level of discourse in a way that should be applauded.

I still think Cruz’s efforts to galvanize support for what is, despite his denials, an attempt to shut down the government over the issue, are ill considered and seem mostly focused on increasing his own growing following. But the sniping at Cruz’s filibuster from a media that was ready to lionize Davis and focus on her fashion choices should be dismissed. So, too, should that coming from many of his colleagues among whom he has already worn out his welcome.

Republicans should not be trying to shut down the government but they should seize every opportunity to discuss the ObamaCare disaster. Though the Senate is now moving on and the House will have an opportunity to step back from the brink toward which Cruz has pushed them, the Texas senator deserves credit for stopping the machinery of the Senate for a day to highlight the assault on the nation’s liberties and its economy that ObamaCare represents. So long as the Democrats control the Senate and the White House, more than that is not possible. That frustrates conservatives and leads many to lash out and seek to do the impossible. But anyone who doubts that Cruz did himself a world of political good with this gesture misunderstands both the issue and the conservative movement. We can’t know for sure what the future holds for Cruz but in the last 24 hours we got a glimpse of his political talent. That should scare Republicans and Democrats who will clash with him in the years to come.

Read Less

Cruz Waits for the Wendy Davis Treatment

Those of us paying attention this morning woke up to somewhat surprising political news: Ted Cruz was still talking, seventeen hours and counting after taking the Senate floor. One would have to be paying attention, as news of Cruz’s stand (it’s not technically a filibuster) hasn’t made the top of the news anywhere nationwide. A Texan senator has taken over the floor of the nation’s most powerful legislative body and that sound you hear is crickets from some corners of the media, derision from others. Compare this coverage to that of another Texan senator, this one a female state senator protesting late-term abortion restrictions, for yet another example of why the public’s trust in the media has plummeted. 

The filibuster undertaken by Wendy Davis and the floor speech of Ted Cruz are remarkably similar in their futility. Not a single legislature or informed observer actually expected either of the stunts to achieve anything tangible. They were planned for one reason: publicity. For Wendy Davis, it worked, catapulting her onto the national stage, setting the groundwork for the unknown state senator’s run for the governor’s mansion. The actual contents of Davis’s speech weren’t reported with nearly as much enthusiasm as her shoe choice, however. Given the grotesque nature of what Davis was fighting to protect (abortion via dismemberment of viable human beings capable of feeling pain), it’s understandable that the media chose to focus on fashion first and foremost. The inherent sexism of this choice was lost on a media cheering the rise of a woman in a male-dominated profession. 

Read More

Those of us paying attention this morning woke up to somewhat surprising political news: Ted Cruz was still talking, seventeen hours and counting after taking the Senate floor. One would have to be paying attention, as news of Cruz’s stand (it’s not technically a filibuster) hasn’t made the top of the news anywhere nationwide. A Texan senator has taken over the floor of the nation’s most powerful legislative body and that sound you hear is crickets from some corners of the media, derision from others. Compare this coverage to that of another Texan senator, this one a female state senator protesting late-term abortion restrictions, for yet another example of why the public’s trust in the media has plummeted. 

The filibuster undertaken by Wendy Davis and the floor speech of Ted Cruz are remarkably similar in their futility. Not a single legislature or informed observer actually expected either of the stunts to achieve anything tangible. They were planned for one reason: publicity. For Wendy Davis, it worked, catapulting her onto the national stage, setting the groundwork for the unknown state senator’s run for the governor’s mansion. The actual contents of Davis’s speech weren’t reported with nearly as much enthusiasm as her shoe choice, however. Given the grotesque nature of what Davis was fighting to protect (abortion via dismemberment of viable human beings capable of feeling pain), it’s understandable that the media chose to focus on fashion first and foremost. The inherent sexism of this choice was lost on a media cheering the rise of a woman in a male-dominated profession. 

It remains to be seen how much Cruz will profit from his stunt. Already a darling of his base, the Tea Party, Cruz is unlikely to gain much in the way of more notoriety, given the lack of media coverage. 

This morning, at around 7, Cruz discussed how the media should be covering his speech. He chided the impulse to discuss it in terms of Cruz’s possible presidential political ambitions and instead asked that the substance of his speech be the focus. A reporter for Politico, Ginger Gibson, tweeted that that was why reporters “mock” Cruz, a sitting U.S. senator. Gibson, rather unprofessionally, shed light on the usually unspoken impulses of her and her colleagues, who apparently demand reverence from the politicians they cover. Gibson was more than happy to contribute an evenhanded and favorable piece on Wendy Davis for Politico (one of several dozen the site ran on the state senator), which would indicate that she has no similar qualms about Davis’s level of respect for reporters’ integrity or professionalism. Davis, however, has no reason to heap scorn on how reporters do their jobs; she can rely on fair and usually favorable coverage from a media that holds her positions in higher esteem than those of conservatives. 

What we’ve learned here is a lesson everyone in the mainstream media and Washington already knows: When politicians play the game and fight for liberal causes, they are rewarded by their equally liberal friends in the press. What makes Cruz and his fellow conservatives the target of reporters’ scorn is their politics, not their lack of reverence for a profession that saw fit to obsess about the shoe choice of a woman who was fighting for access to a procedure so abhorrent that all but four countries in the world have made it illegal. 

Read Less

Why Republicans Are Sniping at Cruz

Even if, like me, you don’t agree with Senator Ted Cruz’s belief that Republicans should go down in flames in a vain effort to defund ObamaCare, it’s hard not to sympathize with him over the way the Texas senator is being treated by some of his colleagues. The revelation by Fox News host Chris Wallace that he received opposition research and possible questions to be posed to Cruz in advance of an announced interview with him from the staffs of both Democrats and fellow Republican senators makes it clear just how disliked the freshman legislator has become in just nine months in office. Cruz’s response to this in which he said these senators feared anything that “changes the clubby way Washington does business” is undoubtedly true.

But while a lot of the antagonism currently being directed at Cruz can be attributed to the way he chooses not to play the traditional go-along-to-get-along Capitol Hill game, it would be a mistake to dismiss it as merely an effort by the Senate club to protect the dysfunctional culture of their institution. I actually like the way Cruz is willing to muss up his colleagues’ hair on routine as well controversial issues in an effort to shake up the Senate. But no matter where you come down on the question of which tactics the GOP should adopt in fighting the implementation of ObamaCare, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the only thing Cruz has actually accomplished lately is to become the focus of an unprecedented amount of attention for a first-year legislator. If Republicans loathe and fear him it is also because they know the path that he would lead them down is one that has no possible conclusion but their political destruction while he is left standing blaming the debacle on their timidity rather than his foolhardiness. Refusing to be part of a failed system is a virtue. But in Cruz’s case it is one that may be overwhelmed by the egotism he is displaying in charting a path for his party that has no end game other than the political aggrandizement of the junior senator from Texas.

Read More

Even if, like me, you don’t agree with Senator Ted Cruz’s belief that Republicans should go down in flames in a vain effort to defund ObamaCare, it’s hard not to sympathize with him over the way the Texas senator is being treated by some of his colleagues. The revelation by Fox News host Chris Wallace that he received opposition research and possible questions to be posed to Cruz in advance of an announced interview with him from the staffs of both Democrats and fellow Republican senators makes it clear just how disliked the freshman legislator has become in just nine months in office. Cruz’s response to this in which he said these senators feared anything that “changes the clubby way Washington does business” is undoubtedly true.

But while a lot of the antagonism currently being directed at Cruz can be attributed to the way he chooses not to play the traditional go-along-to-get-along Capitol Hill game, it would be a mistake to dismiss it as merely an effort by the Senate club to protect the dysfunctional culture of their institution. I actually like the way Cruz is willing to muss up his colleagues’ hair on routine as well controversial issues in an effort to shake up the Senate. But no matter where you come down on the question of which tactics the GOP should adopt in fighting the implementation of ObamaCare, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the only thing Cruz has actually accomplished lately is to become the focus of an unprecedented amount of attention for a first-year legislator. If Republicans loathe and fear him it is also because they know the path that he would lead them down is one that has no possible conclusion but their political destruction while he is left standing blaming the debacle on their timidity rather than his foolhardiness. Refusing to be part of a failed system is a virtue. But in Cruz’s case it is one that may be overwhelmed by the egotism he is displaying in charting a path for his party that has no end game other than the political aggrandizement of the junior senator from Texas.

If Cruz were proposing to his fellow Republicans a strategy that had a prayer of accomplishing the goal of stopping ObamaCare or in any way discomfiting their Democratic antagonists, their resentment of his lack of concern for their sensibilities would be laughable. The Senate is always in need of a few members who don’t fear to step on their colleagues’ toes and Cruz’s disdain for the clubby nature of the institution is laudable. Indeed, it is exactly why Texans sent him to the Senate instead of some other Republican willing to become a member of the D.C. establishment.

But the problem is that there is no discernible endgame to his demand to refuse to fund the government if it means allowing ObamaCare to go forward that would give the GOP a chance of success. ObamaCare should be stopped, but so long as the White House and the Senate are both controlled by Democrats, that won’t happen. Republicans can’t make up for their failure to win the 2012 elections by a filibuster. The person who is really cheering for the GOP to be led by Cruz is President Obama. He knows that a government shutdown is the one way to save his presidency and doom the Republicans to defeat in 2014. A GOP-controlled Congress would have the leverage to start chipping away at the way the president’s signature health-care legislation erodes our liberties and expands the power of the government. But if Republicans listen to Cruz and make a Custer’s Last Stand on the issue now, they will lose that chance.

Moreover, the way Cruz has hogged the spotlight while denouncing everyone who doesn’t drink the suicide caucus’s Kool-Aid lends credence to the idea that what he is really about is making himself look good at the expense of more sensible conservatives. Playing the righteous prophet now might help bolster Cruz’s possible presidential candidacy in 2016 but it does nothing to really stop ObamaCare or to help the GOP take back the Senate.

Seen in that light, the desire of some Republicans to see Cruz taken down a notch or two must be seen as not only an act of spite but one aimed at averting their party’s destruction.

Read Less

The ObamaCare Shutdown Crackup

It started as an appeal to principle against pure pragmatism. It is ending as farce. After getting their way in the House of Representatives last Friday when House Speaker John Boehner agreed to push through a bill funding the government but not ObamaCare, Tea Party hardliners were faced with a problem. Once the bill was in the Senate’s hands, the Democratic majority would trash it. So in order to continue their quixotic quest, Senator Ted Cruz, whose fiery rhetoric and implicit threats of primary opposition for any Republican who didn’t join his suicide caucus had helped create this dilemma, had to come up with a tactic that would keep the fight going without immediately kicking it back to the House. Ever resourceful, Cruz found an answer. But it is not one that is going to do his cause any good.

Cruz’s solution to the problem was to effectively back a filibuster of the House bill that he supports. No, that’s not a typographical error. In order to stop ObamaCare, Senate conservatives are going to have to vote against cloture of the bill that they spent the last few weeks cajoling and threatening the House GOP to pass. But as they say in Texas, that is a dog that will not hunt.

Theoretically, the tactic will trigger the showdown with President Obama and the Democrats that Cruz has been assuring the GOP grass roots can be won if only Republicans don’t lose their nerve. But in order to get there he is forcing Senate Republicans to adopt a hypocritical stance that is too much for even some of the most stalwart conservatives and libertarians. Put simply, if even Rand Paul thinks this is a situation where some compromise is called for, it’s time to drop the curtain on the government shutdown drama that has convulsed the Republican Party and threatens to rescue an Obama administration that is about to fade into lame-duck irrelevancy.

Read More

It started as an appeal to principle against pure pragmatism. It is ending as farce. After getting their way in the House of Representatives last Friday when House Speaker John Boehner agreed to push through a bill funding the government but not ObamaCare, Tea Party hardliners were faced with a problem. Once the bill was in the Senate’s hands, the Democratic majority would trash it. So in order to continue their quixotic quest, Senator Ted Cruz, whose fiery rhetoric and implicit threats of primary opposition for any Republican who didn’t join his suicide caucus had helped create this dilemma, had to come up with a tactic that would keep the fight going without immediately kicking it back to the House. Ever resourceful, Cruz found an answer. But it is not one that is going to do his cause any good.

Cruz’s solution to the problem was to effectively back a filibuster of the House bill that he supports. No, that’s not a typographical error. In order to stop ObamaCare, Senate conservatives are going to have to vote against cloture of the bill that they spent the last few weeks cajoling and threatening the House GOP to pass. But as they say in Texas, that is a dog that will not hunt.

Theoretically, the tactic will trigger the showdown with President Obama and the Democrats that Cruz has been assuring the GOP grass roots can be won if only Republicans don’t lose their nerve. But in order to get there he is forcing Senate Republicans to adopt a hypocritical stance that is too much for even some of the most stalwart conservatives and libertarians. Put simply, if even Rand Paul thinks this is a situation where some compromise is called for, it’s time to drop the curtain on the government shutdown drama that has convulsed the Republican Party and threatens to rescue an Obama administration that is about to fade into lame-duck irrelevancy.

To say that Senate Republicans aren’t buying Cruz’s cynical stand is an understatement. While no one should ever underestimate the willingness of U.S. senators to twist themselves into pretzels to gain a momentary advantage, asking the GOP to filibuster the very bill they begged the House to pass is a bridge too far even for Cruz. There is no way that he will get 41 Republicans to go along with this farce, and for good reason.

Even if one thought that, at least in theory, it was possible for Republicans to go to the brink with the president over defunding the government over ObamaCare, to do so in this manner isn’t just suicidal; it’s insane. As difficult a sell as a shutdown would be for the GOP, to do so while filibustering your own party’s bill should be considered excessive even by Cruz’s standards. The president was always going to win such a standoff, but if that is the ground on which the Republicans choose to make their stand, the administration doesn’t even have to make much of an effort to convince the public that any damage that results from a shutdown should be blamed on the GOP.

And that should lead those who have spent the last week blasting Boehner as a craven hostage of his Tea Party caucus to rethink their evaluation of the speaker. By going along with those conservatives clamoring for eliminating funding for ObamaCare, he seemed to be caving in and supporting a shutdown. But what he has done is to merely serve the ball back into Cruz’s court, knowing full well that the Texan has no viable option to continue the battle. Rather than setting a shutdown in motion, Boehner’s action may actually be the first step toward a rational agreement that will allow the GOP to avoid going over the cliff with the Tea Party. Since he has given his members a chance to vote to defund ObamaCare, the failure of the Senate firebrands may enable him to ask the House to pass a compromise that will avoid catastrophe.

Cruz and his followers will denounce such rational behavior, but if Boehner eventually gets his way President Obama will have good reason to be disappointed. As much as ObamaCare is a mess that should never have been passed, there is simply no path to its elimination so long as the Democrats control the White House and the Senate. Recognizing this fact isn’t the act of a RINO, it is merely rational analysis of the problem. The crackup of the shutdown effort illustrates that Cruz and company are all about the rhetoric but never had a game plan to actually get their way. Republicans should pay close attention to the way this is playing out and thank Providence if their party narrowly avoids the disaster they seemed headed for last week.

Read Less

The Excuses for Failure Are About to Begin

Now that House Republicans have done what Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio (and others) asked, which is to vote to defund the Affordable Care Act, we’ll be able to test whether it will achieve its purpose.

It won’t.

It’s been obvious since the hour this idea was hatched that the Affordable Care Act would not be defunded given the current political conditions. But those who have been pushing the defunding strategy pretended this was a possibility, which is why they insisted this moment was so vital. If you didn’t come on board the defunding campaign, it was said, then you owned ObamaCare. Those who championed what Cruz and Company advocated desperately tried to frame this as a debate between those who were against the Affordable Care Act and those who were willing to live with it.

This was never true. Virtually every Republican wants to put an end to ObamaCare. The problem is that it’s not doable as long as Barack Obama is president and Democrats control a majority in the Senate. Which means the debate all along was about nothing more than symbolism and tactics.

That’s all.

Read More

Now that House Republicans have done what Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio (and others) asked, which is to vote to defund the Affordable Care Act, we’ll be able to test whether it will achieve its purpose.

It won’t.

It’s been obvious since the hour this idea was hatched that the Affordable Care Act would not be defunded given the current political conditions. But those who have been pushing the defunding strategy pretended this was a possibility, which is why they insisted this moment was so vital. If you didn’t come on board the defunding campaign, it was said, then you owned ObamaCare. Those who championed what Cruz and Company advocated desperately tried to frame this as a debate between those who were against the Affordable Care Act and those who were willing to live with it.

This was never true. Virtually every Republican wants to put an end to ObamaCare. The problem is that it’s not doable as long as Barack Obama is president and Democrats control a majority in the Senate. Which means the debate all along was about nothing more than symbolism and tactics.

That’s all.

As this process unfolds, and as this defunding gambit is exposed for what it was—a very bad, misleading, and half-baked idea—those who championed it will be in a vulnerable position. So here’s a prediction: They will engage in a frantic face-saving operation. They’ll argue that the problem wasn’t with them and their unwise idea; they’ll say it failed because of the lack of solidarity from other Republicans; they’ll claim that Republicans unfortunately signaled they weren’t serious about defunding and therefore the effort failed. they’ll say the blame rests not with them (intrepid Men of Principle) but with others (spineless RINOs).

This will be an excuse, and a particularly pathetic one. But it’s the only card they have to play, and play it they will. So sit back and watch the revisionism begin. 

Read Less

Conservatives and the Quest for Political Purification

For some conservatives, using the threat of a government shutdown to defund the Affordable Care Act is an issue with which they have honest differences with other conservatives. For others on the right, however, the “principled” and “patriotic” Republicans support the effort to defund ObamaCare while “pseudo-conservatives”—the spineless, craven, and cowardly types—oppose the effort.

For this group, which includes prominent lawmakers such as Senator Ted Cruz, the defunding strategy has become a litmus test, a true “red line,” a historic moment in which the right-wing wheat and the RINO chaff are once and for all separated. To find a comparable moment in history, think of William Barret Travis at the Alamo (played by Mr. Cruz) and Henry V at Agincourt (played by Senator Rand Paul). “We few, we happy few, we band of Tea Party brothers.”

Read More

For some conservatives, using the threat of a government shutdown to defund the Affordable Care Act is an issue with which they have honest differences with other conservatives. For others on the right, however, the “principled” and “patriotic” Republicans support the effort to defund ObamaCare while “pseudo-conservatives”—the spineless, craven, and cowardly types—oppose the effort.

For this group, which includes prominent lawmakers such as Senator Ted Cruz, the defunding strategy has become a litmus test, a true “red line,” a historic moment in which the right-wing wheat and the RINO chaff are once and for all separated. To find a comparable moment in history, think of William Barret Travis at the Alamo (played by Mr. Cruz) and Henry V at Agincourt (played by Senator Rand Paul). “We few, we happy few, we band of Tea Party brothers.”

What a shame all this melodrama is a mirage, a farce, a game.

The choice is not, and never has been, between those willing to defund ObamaCare and those willing to fund it. That supposed choice is in fact an illusion. To defund the ACA would require the House and Senate to pass new legislation, which Barack Obama would have to sign. And no one, not even Senators Cruz, Paul, Lee and Rubio, believes the president would do that. 

All the posturing that’s being done to present this as a battle between Intrepid Republicans versus the Surrender Caucus is nothing more than political theater.

It also appears that Captain Courageous himself, Ted Cruz, and some of his colleagues are now engaging—at least for now—in a premature surrender. House Republicans are incensed at Cruz for going wobbly on the filibuster he once seemed to favor, putting all the responsibility back on the House.

“For weeks, House Republicans have said the prospects of passing a defund bill in the Senate are grim, and Senators Lee, Cruz, and Rubio have responded by saying nothing is impossible if we fight hard enough. Now they are getting exactly what they asked for, and they issue a press release conceding defeat and refusing to join the fight they demanded in every TV appearance. It’s time they put their money where their mouths are, and do something other than talk,” a House GOP leadership aide told National Review. And Representative Sean Duffy took to Twitter, saying, “House agrees to send ‪#CR to Senate that defunds Obamacare. ‪@SenTedCruz & ‪@SenMikeLee refuse to fight. Wave white flag and surrender.”

There will be plenty of twists and turns ahead, so we’ll have to see how this all plays out. (Mr. Cruz may have to move forward on a filibuster just to save face.) But it does raise the question: How did this silly idea become all the rage?

For some the answer has to do with pent up fury in need of an outlet, and the effort to defund the ACA is that outlet. It also appeals to those who find it satisfying to turn every debate into an apocalyptic clash. And even if Republicans fail, at least they “fought the good fight.” (Ronald Reagan referred to people of this mindset as those who enjoyed “going off the cliff with all flags flying.”)

But there’s also a tendency among some on the right—not all, certainly, but some—to go in search of heretics. They seek to purify the conservative movement—to eliminate from it the defilement, the debasement, and the corruption they see all around them—and they bring to this task an almost religious zeal. They are the Keepers of the Tablets. And they are in a near constant state of agitation. Living in an imperfect world while demanding perfection (or your version of perfection) from others can be hard. 

This is not conservatism either in terms of disposition or governing philosophy. It is, rather, the product of intemperate minds and fairly radical (and thoroughly unconservative) tendencies. Such things have always been with us; and some of the uncontained passions and anger will eventually burn out. The question is how much damage will be done in the process. 

Read Less

Why the Syria Resolution Remains Vague

The Obama administration has over the last week made its case for military action in Syria both publicly to the American people and privately to members of Congress. Today, the administration fused the two by sending top Cabinet officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, to publicly implore the Senate to support strikes on Syria. But one of the curious aspects of this plea is that it remains unclear what, exactly, Congress would be authorizing.

The administration wants to strike at Assad for stepping over President Obama’s chemical-weapons red line. But he doesn’t intend to topple Assad or specifically help the rebels–indeed, as the Wall Street Journal reports, the administration clearly has cold feet about its previous promises to arm the rebels. That is reasonable–the rebel factions have become increasingly characterized and led by extremist elements. But it is creating some confusion as to the goal of this proposed military action in Syria. In terms of getting congressional authorization, the administration has two options. The two are very different, however, both in their execution and in what they will tell us about American partisan politics.

Read More

The Obama administration has over the last week made its case for military action in Syria both publicly to the American people and privately to members of Congress. Today, the administration fused the two by sending top Cabinet officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, to publicly implore the Senate to support strikes on Syria. But one of the curious aspects of this plea is that it remains unclear what, exactly, Congress would be authorizing.

The administration wants to strike at Assad for stepping over President Obama’s chemical-weapons red line. But he doesn’t intend to topple Assad or specifically help the rebels–indeed, as the Wall Street Journal reports, the administration clearly has cold feet about its previous promises to arm the rebels. That is reasonable–the rebel factions have become increasingly characterized and led by extremist elements. But it is creating some confusion as to the goal of this proposed military action in Syria. In terms of getting congressional authorization, the administration has two options. The two are very different, however, both in their execution and in what they will tell us about American partisan politics.

The president is not interested in ordering a ground invasion into Syria, and the Congress has no interest in approving one. But aside from that, it may not get any clearer before the resolution goes before Congress. That’s because the president wants the resolution to pass more than he cares about the details of it–within certain parameters, of course. So option No. 1 is to lob essentially a blank page at Congress and, through committee drafts and accepted amendments, let the members of Congress who support military action against Syria steer the resolution through the House and Senate.

The advantages to this strategy are obvious: if the president loses the vote, as did the British prime minister, it will be a colossal embarrassment. Passing something avoids the agony of defeat. Since President Obama knows that Congress won’t hand him back an authorization for a ground war in Syria, he doesn’t have much to lose, but plenty to gain: he will have bipartisan buy-in for whatever action he ends up commanding, sparing him further political isolation.

In this scenario, he gets most of the credit, as presidents usually do, if the mission is deemed a success. After all, he was the one who set the red line and pushed for action. And while he’ll also shoulder the lion’s share of the blame should it go sour–again, he set the red line–he can argue not only that both parties and the two immediately relevant branches of government stood behind the act, but that Congress pretty much wrote the resolution.

Additionally, he gets the benefit (at least as supporters of action in Syria will see it) of getting assistance and guidance from congressional hawks in the guise of honoring the separation of powers and deferring to congressional consent. Since Obama has indicated that he is motivated at least in part by a desire to save face here, the process is important to him.

There is another aspect of Obama’s decision on the resolution to consider, and it is potentially far more interesting. If Obama lets Congress decide the wording and extent of the authorization of the use of force in Syria, it will be greatly influenced by the Republicans he needs on board. That means the next round of “GOP civil war” stories will be just around the bend. Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, and any others vying to lead their party going forward will have to do more than just vote on the resolution. They will debate the future of the party’s foreign policy, at least in the near term. The resolution that emerges from the process will be, to some degree, a statement of GOP priorities with regard to foreign affairs.

If instead the president retains control over the wording of the resolution, then Congress will be debating the Obama Doctrine. The president will get his up-or-down vote on it, but he’ll own the final product and will saddle his potential Democratic successors with it. That is the riskier, and therefore less likely, route for the president and his party. But the president is still taking a risk by leaving it up to Congress to map out the details, because the split could produce a resolution that is more activist in its military response and therefore less likely to pass in the end.

It’s doubtful many in the GOP saw this coming, but a casual threat about a red line from a Democratic president may end up spurring the formation of the current Republican Party’s foreign-policy identity. If that’s the case, this debate will have implications far beyond Syria.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.