After his narrow defeat by Gerald Ford at the Kansas City convention in 1976, Ronald Reagan was seen as a has-been.
Came the Carter-Torrijos treaties of 1977, however, which gave away the Panama Canal, and the old cowboy strapped on his guns:
"We bought it. We paid for it. It's ours. And we're gonna keep it."
America loved it. Bill Buckley said we must recognize reality and transfer the canal. GOP Senate leader Howard Baker was the toast of the city as he led 16 Republicans to vote with Jimmy Carter. The treaties were approved.
Reagan's consolation prize? The presidency of the United States.
Voters in New Hampshire in 1980, remembering his lonely stand, rewarded Reagan with a decisive victory over George H. W. Bush, who had defeated Reagan in Iowa. When Howard Baker came in, he was greeted as "Panama Howie," and did not survive the primary.
The Republican war over whether to bow to the seemingly inevitable and fund Obamacare is a Panama Canal issue. How one votes here may decisively affect one's career.
Ted Cruz may have, as Richard Nixon used to say, "broken his pick" in the Republican caucus. Yet, on Obamacare, his analysis is right, his instincts are right, his disposition to fight is right.
These are more important matters than the news that he is out of the running for the Mr. Congeniality award on Capitol Hill.
If Obamacare is funded, the subsidies starting in January will constitute a morphine drip from which America's health care system will not recover. If not stopped now, Obamacare is forever.
Senate Republicans should be asking themselves why Cruz and Rand Paul, two newcomers to the Senate of decidedly different temperaments, are being talked of as credible candidates in the presidential primaries of 2016?
Answer: Both are clear in their convictions, unapologetic about them, and willing to break some china to achieve them. And that part of America upon which the GOP depends most is increasingly frustrated and angry with those who run the national party.
Americans don't want a dignified surrender on Obamacare. They want someone to drive a stake through Obamacare.
And the question that is going to be answered in coming weeks is: Is the GOP willing to shove its whole stack into the middle of the table, for a showdown over Obamacare? Or will the House GOP in the end cast the decisive vote to make Obamacare permanent?
For, as columnist Terry Jeffrey writes, "[M]ake no mistake. If Obamacare is funded and implemented it will be because Republican members of Congress decided to do it."