Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell will inevitably take a beating from his primary opponent for his vote yesterday for cloture on the debt-ceiling hike. But among many of his Capitol Hill colleagues and peers, he’s seen as a hero.
After the late-afternoon vote, McConnell headed to a meeting with senior adviser Josh Holmes. Then the two went to a National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) fundraiser at its offices on Capitol Hill. They arrived late to a room that — surprising to many, given the terrible weather — was packed with dozens of attendees. Sources say about 50 to 100 people were present and tell NRO that when the minority leader entered, he was greeted with an eruption of cheers, and that many attendees stood to applaud him.
Not coincidentally, activist groups allied with Mr. Cruz announced they will use those votes in GOP primaries this year against Messrs. McConnell and Cornyn. Mr. Cruz claims to be neutral in Senate primaries, but he knew exactly what he was doing.
We’re all for holding politicians accountable with votes on substantive issues, but Mr. Cruz knew he couldn’t stop a debt increase the House had already passed. He also had no alternative strategy if the bill had failed, other than to shut down the government again, take public attention away from ObamaCare, and make Republicans even more unpopular.
Democrats beat the odds and retained their Senate majority in 2010 and 2012 in part because they stuck together. If Republicans fail again this November, a big reason will be their rump kamikaze caucus.
I remember that Senator Cruz championed legislative tactics that resulted in the shutdown of the federal government last October. He apparently wanted another high-stakes showdown–this time over raising the debt ceiling–that would produce essentially the same result.
I remember the move he helped engineer last fall was a disaster for the GOP and harmful to the conservative cause. I remember that nothing was gained substantively. I remember that the American people, by large margins, hated the shutdown–and that the American people, by large margins, blamed Republicans for it. I remember how, thanks in good part to the shutdown, the GOP received the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992. And I remember that Senator Cruz’s tactic deflected attention from the awful rollout of healthcare.gov for several weeks, until the shutdown ended…
I remember that Senator Cruz, in the months leading up to the shutdown, accused those who disagreed with his approach of being part of the “surrender caucus.” I remember that he and those he was allied with said that if you didn’t agree with their approach you were a de facto supporter of ObamaCare. And I remember that Senator Cruz did what he did because he cared so much about being praised by populist parts of the Republican base.
I remember it was obvious the tactic Mr. Cruz was pushing was destined to fail, that he went ahead with it anyway, and that now he’d like reporters to talk about things other than his role in the government shutdown.
[M]any conservatives have of late demonstrated a worrying tendency to believe that the virtue of their grievances and the legitimacy of their pursuits must automatically translate into political victory — and that if these do not, that this is the fault of the leadership of the Republican party. I appreciate that this is difficult for some to hear, but I would venture that the opposite is the case. In my estimation, the only thing of which Mitch McConnell and John Boehner have been guilty in the past few years is to have worked tirelessly within political reality and to have reacted sensitively to the hands that they were dealt. The hysterical epithets and acronyms, the witless talk of the amorphous “Establishment,” and the lucrative fundraising e-mails all to one side, there is little that either man could have done differently while their party controlled just one half of one branch of government…
As during last October’s shutdown, much of the current griping from the right is predicated upon a false dichotomy of precisely the sort that those of a Burkean disposition are supposed to abhor. When a progressive stands up and compares the status quo to his best intentions — or suggests that anybody who disagrees with his preferred tactics must be against his aims, too — conservatives rightly roll their eyes and sigh knowingly. Alas, of late a number of us have fallen into precisely the same trap as tends to ensnare our friends on the Left — comparing difficult reality to promised (often wholly imagined) future victories, and celebrating how brave we are for opposing the way things currently are without outlining a workable means of changing it. There is, I’m afraid, a touch of Occupy Wall Street about much of the Right’s insurgency — an unlovely propensity to believe that if a small group just wishes hard enough for a particular outcome, it will be able to achieve it. The most risible thing I saw during my time in Zuccotti Park was the participants’ perpetually misguided belief that they were representing a silent majority. “The people united shall not be defeated,” they would cry, without doing anything at all to indicate that they were indicative of anything of the sort. I have recently encountered a similar tendency among people with whom I politically agree.
“I’d be willing to risk losing the Senate if we could keep America,” Mitch McConnell’s primary challenger, Matt Bevin, told Glenn Beck this morning. What an astonishingly incoherent and misguided sentence that is. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” asks the King James Bible. A fair question, yes, but politics is a different game altogether, and, in this case, the alternative isn’t an otherworldly victory or spiritual advancement but simply more loss. The question for Bevin must be “for what shall it profit a man if he shall lose another debt-ceiling fight and lose his party’s shot at the Senate as well?” And the answer is “not at all.” If this is what we are to expect from the revolution — a host of nihilistic, suicidal, performance artists who would rather be outside of the control room screaming than inside and in charge — then give me the cynical calculations of a Mitch McConnell any day of the week.
In decades past, leaders could rein in such behavior by threatening to take away coveted committee assignments, withdrawing financial support, or shunning lawmakers. None of those tactics are effective in a political era in which campaign cash flows freely from outside the party machinery and cable outlets offer many ways to grab attention and influence.
In addition, the potential 2016 presidential aspirant who is aligned with the small-government Tea Party movement has demonstrated scant interest in cultivating Senate allies or building legislative coalitions, making him even more impervious to pressure from his colleagues…
For their part, Senate Republicans are “getting used to Senator Cruz’s style of operating, which is to continue to put them in very difficult positions,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, who was an aide to former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. “He is in it for a variety of reasons, but most likely in it for his future presidential ambitions.”
[W]hy are people dumping on Ted Cruz for the debt ceiling vote? He didn’t spend weeks saying the GOP would refuse to hike it without any strings attached. That’s what McConnell, Boehner, Ryan and the rest of the “establishment” were saying. Why is Cruz the bad guy for trying to make them live up to their commitment? It seems rather strange to get mad at the guy who pointed out the lie rather than the liars…
I looked back at the debt ceiling hikes during the Bush years (that’s as far back as I had time to check) and there were seven of them totaling $5.85 trillion in increases. Mitch McConnell voted for each and every one of them. Only in 2009 did he begin to vote against hiking the debt ceiling. I find it hard to believe that McConnell suddenly found a principled objection to ever increasing debt. It seems pretty clear his biggest problem with debt is that it’s now political expedient to be against it. Remember, then Senator Obama said hiking the debt ceiling “is a sign of leadership failure”.
What’s Cruz’s sin here? That he forced the GOP to be transparent about its position — a position that seems pretty reasonable considering the political realities of the situation. According to Betsy Woodruff’s reporting, most Republicans had no interest in voting for an increase. It’s preposterous to claim, no matter how often the Tea Party does, that moderate GOPers are “no better” than liberals simply because they’re losing on this issue. But if the debt ceiling isn’t a hill worth dying on – and it certainly isn’t – leadership should have explained this explicitly rather than leading on the base. It was only back in January when McConnell told the faithful on national television that some of “the most significant legislation passed in the past 50 years has been in conjunction with the debt limit. I think for the president to ask for a clean debt ceiling when we have a debt this size of our economy is irresponsible.” What McConnell should have added then is: but there’s nothing we can do about it right now. We have to work on winning more seats, and then we can stop this endless cycle of irresponsible spending…
McConnell and Boehner don’t lead, they manage. And they’re about to lose the party. All fresh conservative ideas in the Senate are coming from Mike Lee, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio (who’s on thin ice, I know). They, like Ted Cruz, and like Senator Barack Obama before him, understand the appeal of idealism over pragmatism to those out of power. Obama voted against what is the now-sacred debt ceiling hike because he had nothing to lose and everything to gain. If you’re going to surrender, at the very least don’t make it look easy. And don’t try to cover up the terms of surrender.
Tactically speaking, playing defense forever is no long-term strategy. Yes, the establishment works tirelessly within the political realities of the day. Cruz, it seems, is more interested in changing the reality of his situation. Forcing a 60-vote threshold on the debt ceiling wasn’t only about the debt ceiling (which Cruz surely understood would be hiked), and it wasn’t only about his presidential ambitions (which he surely has), but about helping bring a bunch of Matt Bevins into the Senate and solidify his position. It’s difficult to imagine the Senate not getting more conservative.
At a Monday conference hosted by Heritage Action, conservatives presented the policy agenda for a center-right Republican Party.
Over nearly eight hours, Sens. Mike Lee, Ted Cruz and Tim Scott, as well as Reps. Phil Roe, Tom Graves, Tom Price, Jim Jordan, Matt Salmon, Raul Labrador and Jeb Hensarling, joined with conservative scholars and leaders to present solutions for college, health care, marriage, energy, privacy, cronyism, education, federalism and, of course, the welfare state.
Republican leadership was conspicuously absent…
“They say they want to focus on Obamacare, then push amnesty,” the strategist continued. “They say they want to tackle spending and debt and then push bills to raise both. It’s been the conservative members, outside groups and grassroots that have shown the only real leadership since Obama was elected.”
Many in the GOP believe Cruz is just out for himself. But even if that’s true, they have to remember that he represents more than just Ted Cruz. There are a lot of Republicans — it’s not clear how many, but a significant portion of the party’s base — that cheers Cruz on when he battles with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. They want to see a Republican throw a wrench in the Washington spending machine, even if it creates chaos and damages the GOP’s standing with independent voters. And it is that conviction that is really behind the party’s problems; it is why Republicans would not enjoy smooth sailing even if Cruz were to retire tomorrow…
In the end, the gambit accomplished nothing for Senate Republicans. Some GOP lawmakers who already disliked Cruz now dislike him even more. But the episode did remind the Republican leadership, as if it needs any reminding, that there are conservatives around the country who are deeply frustrated by the GOP and want it to show some fight.
To them, Cruz represents that fight. Maybe they’ve been misled. Maybe they’re living in a fantasy land. But that’s what they believe. Republican leaders have to keep them in mind as November approaches.
“If we wait on the entrenched politicians in Washington, hell will freeze over before that happens.”
Via the Right Scoop.