The main tool – maybe the only tool – Team DeMint uses to keep senators in line is “name and shame.” Lawmakers and outside groups demanded all Republicans sign a pledge for Cut, Cap, & Balance. Those who didn’t sign were branded as RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) and threatened with primary challenges.
This can work in the short term, but make enemies in the long term. That’s especially true when the pure position all Republicans are forced to adopt turns out to be a negotiating tactic.
This is what has happened in the defund-Obamacare fight. Cruz, Lee and the outside groups have their tactics, which include opposing cloture on the continuing resolution. To hold the line, Cruz and Lee repeated: “Defund it or you own it,” and more precisely, “a vote for cloture is a vote for Obamacare.”
Cruz and Lee painted differences in tactics as a lack of principle — or a sign of secret liberalism.
This burns bridges. Conservative Republicans get tired of being told they are sellouts because they take a different tactical approach. Which gets us where we are today: Most Republican senators got tired of Ted Cruz and voted for cloture on the continuing resolution.
The current form of the Tea Party Whip Operation, it turns out, is an unsustainable way to lead.