If you think about it, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) did nothing.
Sure, he spent the summer ginning up support for his “Defund Obamacare” charade, giving cover to and making alliances with the House Republican Suicide Caucus. But when it comes to actual obstruction, he fit his fake filibuster into a conveniently empty time slot. He and his boy wonder, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), used their power to block unanimous consent of the late-September Senate bill that would have funded the government — but only for 24 hours. That left the House plenty of time to pass it. Instead, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) refused to even put the Senate’s bill up for a vote, knowing Cruz would blast him if he did so… and the government shut down.
Last week, Cruz could have delayed the bill that reopened the government and raised the debt limit for 24 hours.
But he didn’t.
Why? This would have led to a breach of the debt ceiling, the beginnings of a default and genuine Wall Street freakout.
He didn’t do this for a pretty simple reason: He wants another shutdown or debt limit crisis, soon.
If he took one step further, the immediate consequences of his brinksmanship wouldn’t help his effort to do it again, and possibly again after that.
Cruz’s willingness to threaten another crisis is insanity to many leaders of the Republican Party. The shutdown took the bulletproof vest off their House majority and has already made 15 seats more likely to swing to the Democrats, according to the venerable Cook Political Report.
But you know the truth: While the shutdown was an obvious disaster for the Republican Party, it was a bonanza for Cruz and his wealthy anti-goverment allies.
It was a bonanza when it comes to fundraising and making him the leader of the far right of the Republican Party. Why would he give up now, with the 2016 GOP primary getting closer every day? Do you think Ted Cruz is worried about hurting the Republican Party’s “brand?”
“There’s an old saying that, ‘Politics, it ain’t beanbag.’” the junior senator from Texas told ABC News’ Jon Karl in an interview that aired Sunday. “And, you know, I’m not serving in office because I desperately needed 99 new friends in the U.S. Senate.”
As a half-dozen people have pointed out on Twitter, Cruz is now the archetypal reality-show villain who feels the need to justify shameless behavior by explaining, “I’m not here to make friends.”
Cruz’s relentless angling to make himself the breakout star of the Senate reality show does have a benefit for Republicans: It makes their successes at rolling back government services and slowing the economic recovery by forcing the Democrats to accept brutal cuts seem moderate.
The shutdown cost the economy an estimated $24 billion and the lingering threat of another shutdown and default will keep the trauma already done to the American consumer’s psyche from harboring any hope of full recovery.
But even without Cruz’s antics, America is still suffering from the “victory” the Tea Party won during the last debt limit crisis of 2011.
The automatic cuts known as the sequestration have been in effect for over half a year, despite the fact that they were designed to be intolerable to both Republicans and Democrats. “That reduced annual growth by 0.7 points since 2010 and raised unemployment by almost a full percentage point, or 1.2 million lost jobs,” our Joe Conason explains. The New Republic‘s David Dayen calls the sequestration a “massive, long-term shutdown.”
But with Cruz insisting on placing America on the brink of catastrophe to defund a law that’s now about twice as popular as he is, given that a recent Associated Press-GfK survey finds his approval rating at 16 percent, Democrats are battling for survival of the economy, not to reverse the damage the GOP has done.
Ted Cruz’s approval with the general public might be alarming to most politicians. But Cruz clearly knows his audience.
Among Tea Party Republicans, Cruz has a 74 percent — 74 percent! — approval rating. This makes him about as popular with the far right as Ronald Reagan wearing a Jesus t-shirt and shooting copies of the Affordable Care Act with an AK-47 while listening to Ted Nugent and agreeing with Dr. Ben Carson that Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery.
The disparity in how Tea Partiers see Cruz versus how the rest of the country sees him does bear a slight resemblance to the fallout of a spectacle that took place on the floor of the Senate in the 19th century.
Of course, the divisions between blue states and red states are slight now compared to slave states and free states. But the implementation of Obamacare will exacerbate the divisions, with Republican governors and legislatures turning down Medicaid expansion that they will have to pay for anyway, driving up insurance rates for their residents.
Cruz didn’t beat anyone, literally or figuratively. His tactics divided his party and weakened their hold on power, all while glorifying himself among the party’s true believers.
“You have to have a specific agenda,” Jeff Bell, a policy director in the 1976 Reagan campaign, told the New York Times. “That’s a missing element in today’s conservative revolt.”
But Bell doesn’t get it. Cruz has an agenda that the Tea Party loves: Stop Washington D.C. from working.
And the problem for the GOP is that this outright sabotage may get in the way of their subtle and much-more-effective attempts to do the same thing, but in slow motion.
Photo: The Texas Tribune via Flickr