Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, may be the brightest light to adorn the Republican Party in many years. He knows how to make the case for conservative ideas, pointing, for example, to the contrasting fates of Detroit and Houston to illustrate the superiority of conservative policies. So it's particularly galling to see that rather than train his fire at President Barack Obama and the liberal machine that cocoons him, Cruz has become a one-man wrecking ball against Republicans. His most recent foray into sabotaging his colleagues concerned the debt limit increase.
Because Speaker John Boehner sent over a "clean" debt limit bill, Republican senators had decided to let it pass with only Democratic votes. Republicans would not be endorsing the Democrats' spending priorities, but neither would they be opening themselves to the accusation of flirting with national default. With Obama's political fortunes sinking and several "red state" Democratic senators in jeopardy, Republicans have a good chance to retake the Senate in November -- unless they fall into civil war.
Retaking the Senate won't mean the repeal of Obamacare, but it will thwart the president in significant ways. A united Republican congress can pass legislation forcing vetoes. Bills like those alleviating the effects of drought in California, endorsing fracking on federally owned land, permitting Americans to keep their doctors, opposing lifting sanctions on Iran, cutting the bloated budget, and other matters would land on Obama's desk instead of moldering in Harry Reid's bottom drawer. Presidential vetoes would underscore the extremism of the president and his party. A Republican Senate would also inhibit the president from appointing ultra-leftists (like Debo Adegbile) to administration posts requiring confirmation. Finally, should any member of the Supreme Court die or resign in the final two years of an Obama presidency, a Republican Senate would force the president to choose a somewhat less objectionable nominee.
The job of the Republican Party until 2016 is to limit the damage that Obama can inflict on the nation and the world.
Cruz objected to permitting the debt ceiling vote with only Democratic votes. He demanded that the bill meet a 60-vote threshold (his right according to the rules). And so the Senate leadership, including Mitch McConnell, who is facing a primary challenger and a well-placed Democratic opponent, was forced to vote for the bill. Cruz then swanned over to the cameras to proclaim that some in Washington were "not listening to the people."
This is not the first time Cruz has showboated at the expense of his party. In March, the president had proposed gun control legislation. This put red state Democrats in an awkward position. Cruz attempted to ride to the Democrats' rescue by threatening to filibuster any gun control measure. Wiser Republican heads prevailed, and the measure did come to the floor for a vote, where Democrats handed Obama and Reid a defeat.
Cruz claimed later that he had been vilified for "fighting on this." No, he was criticized for trying to turn a winning hand into a losing one. A filibuster would have permitted Obama to thunder indignation about Republican obstructionism, while allowing Democrats to escape an uncomfortable vote.
Some grass-roots Republicans are highly receptive to the argument that only Republican leadership cowardice can explain the Obama phenomenon. Cruz croons the melody baldly. He told one gathering that his colleagues reproached him saying, "I go home and constituents are yelling at me that I gotta stand on principle." I'd donate $1,000 to the Cruz for President committee if one senator ever said any such thing. Cruz continued: "'Before you did this, the politics on this were all great. The Dems were the bad guys. The Republicans were the good guys. Now we all look like a bunch of squishes.' Well there is an alternative. You could all just not be a bunch of squishes."
Cruz stoked the shutdown fever, while his aide called other Republicans the "surrender caucus." Cruz's allies threatened to primary senators who objected. In the end, the shutdown cratered the Republican Party's popularity and forced them to accept the same deal they could have had in September. That the deal wasn't worse is a tribute to the much-scorned Boehner and McConnell. If senators are going to face primaries for their votes, Cruz should be among them, because after fulminating for three weeks, he, too, voted to fund the government.
Cruz has many gifts. He's a skilled rhetorical marksman (if no tactician) but by firing at his own side, he may be doing more damage to the Republican Party than any Democrat.