In case you’re tempted to feel optimistic in a haze of post-shutdown good feeling, let me offer a few words of, well, discouragement.
Sure, there was some good news. The Senate voted overwhelmingly to get the government back to work and to avoid a default. And even though the House Republicans did put up 144 no votes, many were symbolic (or, if you prefer, cowardly). It was a free vote, after all. The game was up. Everyone knew the ending before the voting began.
And, yes, there have been some optimistic sounds of note.
In an exit interview with Robert Costa at National Review, Mitch McConnell – now called “Ditch” McConnell by his Tea Party friends – promises there won’t be a shutdown or a default next time. It’s all about mules, he notes, saying, “There’s no education in the second kick from a mule.” The first kick was the 1995 shutdown. The second kick just knocked the GOP on its collective butt. Time to wise up, McConnell suggests.
I’m guessing McConnell is right. The Republicans took too hard a hit from this shutdown. And they caved – thankfully – in the moments before default. No one is going to believe them three months from now if they try the same act.
So, why not be optimistic? Why not sit back and just enjoy the Jim DeMint vs. Karl Rove GOP civil war to come, knowing that it’s merely intramural sport?
Here’s why: Because if you look closely, you can see what really happened, even as our Republic was being spared more devastating folly.
[pullquote]In the post-shutdown interviews, the suicide caucus looked pretty miserable. But that’s just where Cruz comes in.[/pullquote]
Start with Ted Cruz. It started, of course, with Cruz. It was his faux-filibuster filibuster. It was his goading of the House suicide caucus to jump. It was his speech on the Senate floor in which he accused his Republican colleagues of abandoning the House. Later he would accuse them – you have to love the imagery — of “dive-bombing” the House. No wonder he has managed to make enemies of nearly every Republican in the Senate.
He voted, in the end, to continue the shutdown and to default on our debt. Of course, he did. But it wasn’t just him. It was every leading would-be Republican presidential candidate in either the House or Senate. Every one. That’s why it’s hard to see any post-shutdown accommodation. There’s a showdown coming within the Republican party in the 2016 GOP primary – and it starts now. Just check the votes.
Paul Ryan, the becalmed policy wonk in the Tea Party storm, voted against his buddies in the House leadership and for continued shutdown and default. Marco Rubio, who tried to go all moderate on immigration, voted for continued shutdown and default. Rand Paul – I don’t think you need my help here – voted for continued shutdown and default.
The Tea Party suicide caucus may have taken a real dive in the polls and led the Republican party along with it. It may have embarrassed itself with its non-strategy strategy to defund Obamacare. If you trust the polls, the caucus may have even made it possible for Republicans to lose the House in 2014.
But the Tea Partiers, even in defeat, remain a huge part of the Republican base. And, according to a Pew poll, Cruz has a 74 percent Tea Party approval rating. It wasn’t compromise that got him there. It isn’t compromise that will get Ryan-Rubio-Paul there either, and it’s Ryan, remember, who is co-chairing the latest version of a budget super-committee that is supposed to hash out a deal.
In the post-shutdown interviews, the suicide caucus looked pretty miserable. But that’s just where Cruz comes in. He tells them they actually won. He tells them that being reviled by the Republican establishment is a victory of its own. His allies are threatening to primary Republican squishes from the right. Red State’s Erick Erickson says the shutdown fight “has forced charlatans of the GOP out of the shadows into disinfecting sunlight.” It was Cruz who did the pushing.
The stakes are pretty high in the fight between the Republican establishment and hard right. The fight was inevitable. The Tea Partiers, who say they love history, want their own Republican McGovern, not a McCain or a Romney, not a Christie or a Jeb Bush. They want one of their own and are convinced the country does, too. It’s an old story. What’s different this time is that it’s not 2012 when the right was stuck with used-up politicians like Santorum or Gingrich or novelty acts like Bachmann or Cain. Somewhere in the mix of Cruz-Ryan-Rubio-Paul, there’s a real chance for someone to emerge.
That someone – if he can be nominated – might well be crushed in the general election, particularly if Hillary Clinton runs. But that’s another story. The story today is that embracing government dysfunction seems to be a likely road to a Republican bid for the White House. How crushing is that?