Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ted Cruz

I Still Remember, Senator Cruz

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

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

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

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

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

That’s not all I remember.

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

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

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

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

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

That’s not all I remember.

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

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

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

So do others.

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Not So Fast, Senator Cruz

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

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

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

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

Of course it did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course it did.

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

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

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

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

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Why the Budget Deal Deserves Conservative Support

Good grief. 

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

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

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

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

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Good grief. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ted and Rand’s Father Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GOP Purge? A Tempest in a Tea Pot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The War on Rational Conservatism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does this portend?

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

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

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Cruz’s Critics Aren’t Just GOP Establishment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What’s Good for Cruz May Be Bad for GOP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Tea Party Mindset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Who Lost the Shutdown Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To put it mildly, this is bunk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tea Party v. Establishment — What’s Next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll know soon enough.

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Can the Obama Revival Succeed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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