On Wednesday, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) ripped into the GOP establishment for cutting a deal on the government shutdown and debt ceiling, stating, “The Washington establishment has cut a deal.” He added, “The focus is and should be on the substance of providing real relief for the American people. This deal doesn’t do that, and that’s why I intend to vote no.”
The question, of course, is whether Cruz’s strategy ever could have worked at all. The original strategy, to fund the government in whole except for Obamacare, then attempt to create public pressure to force a Democratic Senate and President Obama to acquiesce in defunding, came under heavy scrutiny from the start. In essence, the defunding battle was a strategic game of chicken. In any game of chicken, the winner must publicly demonstrate his or her willingness to place a cinder block on the accelerator – an act President Obama took early by stating that he would never negotiate on the debt ceiling or the continuing resolution.
There was no such resolution on the Republican side of the aisle. On September 27, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said, “This exercise will not achieve the goal that we seek. I do question whether the outcome is going to be what [Cruz] is promising the people, which is impossible as long as Democrats control two out of the three bodies of government.” Two days later, he added that to think other than he did was “not rational.” He said the same day, “I will again state unequivocally that this is not something that we can succeed in, and that’s defunding Obamacare…” On October 11, he called defunding “a fool’s errand” and suggested it was “not achievable.” McCain’s longtime antipathy to Cruz – in March, he referred to Cruz and others including Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) as “wacko birds on the right” – put him in the position of undercutting whatever leverage Republicans had from the start. Democrats could sense weakness from the outset, and never had an incentive to cave.
In the House, the story was similar with Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who said that Cruz was on a “maniacal crusade,” and added, “No one has done more to strengthen Obamacare than Ted Cruz.” Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) likewise accused Cruz of “refusing to fight” in mid-September when Cruz launched his speech designed to sink the House continuing resolution that would have allowed the Senate to strip language defunding Obamacare.
The question was not whether those opposed to Cruz’s strategy were in favor of Obamacare – Republicans are still united around opposition to Obamacare. The question is whether once that strategy was engaged, undercutting it by signaling repeatedly that Republicans would not carry the fight through sank any chance of real concessions from President Obama and Democrats. Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker suggested in a recent column that Tea Partiers were “shoot-now-take-names-later” Sonny Corleone types, and that the establishment legislators were “cooler-headed son and intellectual strategist” Michael Corleone. The better Godfather analogy is the reverse: Cruz and company were, for better or worse, the architects of a strategy already in play, the Don Corleones of this particularly scenario; establishment Republicans were along for the ride. But, like Sonny in front of Virgil Sollozzo, establishment Republicans spoke out of turn. And that allowed the Democrats – Sollozzo – the opportunity to take out the leader and hope to deal with those left intact. That strategy bore fruit.
President Obama blamed the fractious Republican coalition for failing to come to an agreement earlier. But the truth is that it was the fractiousness of that coalition that led to Wednesday’s cave. Benjamin Franklin once said, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Or, as Don Corleone once put it, “Never tell anyone outside the family what you are thinking again.”
Ben Shapiro is Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the New York Times bestseller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America” (Threshold Editions, January 8, 2013).