Remember, Senate rules require 30 hours of debate on a bill unless all 100 members consent to waiving them. If Cruz (or Lee or Rand Paul) withheld his consent, boom — we hit the debt ceiling tomorrow and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man appears in the streets of New York to wreak havoc. Would Cruz, true to his “don’t blink” ethos, hold out to the bitter end? I thought there was a 99 percent chance that he wouldn’t, but man oh man, that one percent. Joshua Green imagines:
You may be thinking to yourself, “Why on earth would he keep this up?!” The answer is simple: Cruz seeks to be the purest conservative in the 2016 field, and fighting the good fight till the bitter end would lend a romantic flourish to his C.V., at least in the eyes of the Tea Party types who vote faithfully in GOP primaries. It’s no accident that he won last weekend’s Value Voters Summit Presidential Straw Poll going away. Cruz also needs to be able to explain away the humiliating debacle of the Republican collapse he precipitated, and here, too, fighting on would probably help him. In my talks with Cruz allies over the last couple of days, a clear theme emerged: Republicans were losing because those RINOs in the Senate wouldn’t man up and fight. To pin this defeat on others, Cruz will have to do everything he can to heighten this distinction.
The problem with that theory is that GOP nominee Ted Cruz, having swept to victory on the backs of his tea-party supporters, would then need to figure out how to win a general election, and being known as the guy who singlehandedly forced a technical default when literally everyone else was ready to proceed would be … unhelpful to that effort. Plus, like it or not, Cruz will need to build bridges with wealthy Republican donors before 2016, at least to the point where they’re not clamoring to fund someone who can stop him. (Although maybe that’s inevitable.) Making sure that he doesn’t tank the market to make a rhetorical point when there’s now zero chance of achieving any major ObamaCare concessions is a prerequisite. Besides, hasn’t he already positioned himself as “the purest conservative in the 2016 field” after all this? The policy goal of defunding O-Care was always quixotic but the political benefits of pounding the table against the law, staging a 21-hour speech against it, and backing the first major government shutdown in nearly 20 years to protest it are obvious. Whether he’s now the “purest” conservative in the field, he’s certainly the most famously populist conservative. Which, I think, was his main goal on the political side of this. Raising awareness about ObamaCare’s defects was important and salutary, but re-framing the RINO/conservative divide as more of an elitist/populist divide (as he does in the clip below) is what will define his personal brand.
One question, though. Does Cruz’s refusal to delay the vote mean that he too thinks hitting the debt ceiling would be a very bad (even catastrophic) thing? If not then he has nothing to lose by delaying another day or two; it would, as Green says, show his willingness to fight the good fight until the bitter end. But if it’s true that he fears hitting the ceiling, he’s in the unusual position of being on the wrong side of tea-party opinion:
A clear majority — 52 percent — of those who agree with the tea party say it’s unnecessary to raise the debt limit at all. Something to bear in mind if/when Boehner ends up stepping down before the midterms and the caucus is forced to decide whether to elect a centrist or conservative as his successor.
Exit question: Is this good for Rand Paul or bad?
One silent GOP force in this deal: Rand Paul, who never put public pressure on McConnell to move toward the Cruz position
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) October 16, 2013
Righties might not like it, but moderate conservatives who think Christie’s too squishy and Cruz too extreme will like it a lot.