The Conversation

The Cruz perspective

This seems like a moment when everyone is taking stock of grassroots conservatism in general, and Senator Ted Cruz in particular.  He acted to force a vote on raising the debt ceiling that the GOP leadership would rather have conducted as a quiet, anonymous surrender.  The leadership is angry at him over it.  Pragmatic Republicans accuse Cruz of boosting his own personal brand at the expense of the party, or leading people into doomed ideological battles the GOP is not positioned to win, committing the cardinal tactical sin of wasting political capital without hope of a return on the investment.

But ever since he rose to prominence, I've thought Cruz was more interested in making Democrats spend their political capital, which is something they are not often obliged to do.  They get a lot of what they want without ever putting skin in the game, casting difficult votes, or defending their actions before the American people.  The media is on their side, and when it's not actively cheerleading for Democrats, it performs the sometimes even more valuable service of letting them carry on their business away from the spotlight.  Democrat scandals are disposed of quickly and efficiently, without splash damage to a single Democrat figure beyond the politician they had to cut loose.  There is no accumulated weight of ideology placed on their shoulders.  They are held accountable for nearly zero percent of "gridlock."  They're not really expected to make difficult compromises.

Cruz, and those of like mind, have at least forced Democrats to crack open that hoard of political capital they normally use to intimidate Republicans into quiet compliance.  I supported the effort to defund ObamaCare - and feel 100 percent vindicated by subsequent events - because the GOP Establishment had simply passed the point where they could tell the voters, "Keep your powder dry, we'll fight next time."  They needed to do something.  The Republican Party needed to be on the record as fighting this nightmare.  

It's not Ted Cruz' fault if the leadership has worked so hard to throw away any advantage he brought them by leading the resistance, because they'd rather accept the judgment of the media, and use the opportunity to purge uppity factions within the Republican Party.  I often find myself comparing the shutdown fallout with the way Democrats handled the epic butt-kicking they got when they pushed for gun control last year.  They ran against the majority will of the American people, they misread their moment after the Newtown shooting, and they got pulled into a fruitless political contest by madcap extremists like Sen. Dianne Feinstein.  But they never acted like they deserved the beating they got, or treated Feinstein the way Cruz has been handled by GOP leaders.  They never accepted any narrative other than "we tried to do the right thing, and we couldn't get the votes."  Why aren't Republican solons taking that tack with respect to ObamaCare defunding, which the American people most certainly agree was the right thing to do, after getting a load of the disaster Obama unleashed on them?

Political junkies and pundits don't always appreciate how actions speak to the great mass of voters.  If the Republicans don't act like the debt ceiling is important, while Democrats behave in lockstep unison as though it isn't - it's a minor paperwork formality for them, on the road to $20 trillion, $25 trillion, $30 trillion in debt, whatever it takes to bring America down in flames, as long as today's Dem big shots get to watch the fires burn from their comfortable retirement estates - then what is the general public to conclude?  

We think of holding our fire for tactical reasons and waiting until the November elections change the political calculus.  It's a logical strategy, but meanwhile, what do the people who might otherwise get excited for Republican leadership think when they see the party tucking its signature issues away in a footlocker, promising to bring them out later when they've got the votes?  

What I think is missing from the GOP Establishment's strategy is any urgent sense that their current political situation is bad for America - that it's a crying shame they have to let Democrats spend trillions more that we don't have, making vitally necessary reforms harder with every billion that flies past.  They're acting like they don't want to rock the boat, not shouting that the Titanic is heading for an iceberg.  That's not how the Democrats generally behave when their political situation forces them to go mum on a big issue - they make a point of ritually denouncing Republicans as monstrous obstacles to progress before they clam up, or scurry back to their purple districts and pretend to be moderates.  Heck, they've even made a very game effort to blame the ObamaCare albatross around their neck on Republicans.  I can't escape the sense that if the Republican leadership was dealing with a similar situation, it would be acting like the Party extremists who cooked up the ObamaCare-style disaster kinda deserve to lose their seats, and the chastised GOP would try to do better when it rose from the ashes in a few years.

Why must there be some destructive conflict between the GOP Establishment and Cruz's Rogue Squadron?  A good Establishment would be making careful plans to use people like Cruz, and bring back the forces that handed them a historic win in 2010.  Of course, the Big Government machine we're trying to dismantle has ways of rewarding its Republican friends, too, so maybe it's not too surprising that they're thin on the ground when it's time to ride into the guns of statism.



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