Alternate headline: “RINO surprised to discover he’s a RINO.” No, no, kidding. It’s a testament to how much goodwill Coburn has earned with grassroots righties that he remains a minor player in the RINO/true conservative squabble over defunding despite having been one of the first big-name Republicans to publicly criticize Cruz’s tactics. Or maybe I’m wrong and he’s simply being ignored because a more attractive target for right-wing wrath has inserted himself into this. Coburn gets a pass vis-a-vis McCain, I think, not just because of differences in their record but because Coburn takes no obvious personal pleasure in rebuking the wacko birds. When he tells you it’s too bad that Cruz is doomed to fail, you believe him. Not so Maverick. In fact, there’s an odd symmetry between Coburn as low-key opponent of trying to defund and Mike Lee as a (comparatively) low-key supporter. Both of them are being overshadowed on their respective sides by guys who are lightning rods for criticism. The left (and Peter King) will come away from this declaring Ted Cruz some kind of terrorist but Lee will sail on undamaged.
I think Coburn’s right, though, that confusion about what’s possible here risks disappointment and demotivation next year. Tactically, things have reached the point where even some grassroots conservatives who are following this closely aren’t sure what’s going on. Here’s something one of Orrin Hatch’s staffers posted yesterday:
Callers into our office very confused after that 100-0 cloture vote
— Antonia Ferrier (@ahrferrier) September 25, 2013
The confusion over cloture is understandable, but it comes on top of the earlier confusion about Cruz wanting to filibuster the House bill that actually defunds ObamaCare and on top of the broader uncertainty about which side would suffer more from a shutdown over defunding and how badly. Ironically, I think the more convoluted the tactical debate becomes, the easier it is to simply choose a side between the RINOs and true conservatives and start hammering the other as sellouts/grandstanders. Democrats insist that Cruz’s filibuster will achieve nothing; Coburn, whatever his feelings about ObamaCare, agrees with them on at least that much. If he’s not willing to risk a months-long shutdown in a quixotic bid to pressure the other party into defunding the biggest “accomplishment” of the Obama presidency, then he’s kinda sorta “with” the Democrats, isn’t he? QED.
Update: If Tom Coburn’s the new president of the RINOs, Rick Perry must be his VP.