A fully-bipartisan consensus was reached today in the United States Senate, which just unanimously condemned Ted Cruz as nothing more than a self-aggrandizing and self-promoting buffoon. Well, that wasn't exactly the title of the bill which came up for a vote, but it amounted to the same thing when every senator voted to ignore Cruz's "fauxlibuster" and move forward on the budget bill. The truly astounding thing in this unanimously bipartisan vote? Even Ted Cruz voted against Ted Cruz. If that isn't a bipartisan consensus, then I don't know what is.
Senator Cruz has had a rough couple of weeks, mind you. After leading a crusade this summer to "defund Obamacare," Cruz angered many of his own Tea Party supporters in the House last week by admitting reality -- which the entire "defund Obamacare" campaign had been vociferously denying, all summer long.
The Big Lie that Cruz sold -- lock, stock, and barrel -- to the Tea Party faithful was that it'd be downright easy to succeed in defunding Obamacare, proving the superiority of the congressional "power of the purse" over things Congress didn't approve of. This was always a lie (see: Democratic control of Senate; presidential veto power), but it sold well out in Republican House districts. This sustained campaign stiffened the backbone of all the Republicans in the House, and they were about to dutifully pass a budget bill which "defunded" Obamacare (it didn't, actually -- it only defunded about 20% of Obamacare, but this was a minor detail to the Tea Partiers). Cruz, mere days before this House vote was to happen, publicly admitted that the effort was doomed to failure in the Senate. This was always the reality of the situation, but it directly contradicted the Big Lie which Cruz had spent so much time and effort promoting for the past few months. When the House Tea Partiers viciously (and predictably) turned on Cruz, he had to quickly backtrack and promise he'd use every possible Senate gimmick to fight the good fight -- up to and including a filibuster.
Cruz's problem, however, was that this was just as big a fantasy as the original Big Lie. Think about it: the House Republicans passed a "defund Obamacare" budget bill. The Senate takes up the House bill. So what is Cruz to do? Filibuster the Republican "defund" bill? What would that achieve? It would kill the Tea Party's bill! That makes no sense. What Cruz would really like to do is to filibuster the inevitable Democratic amendment to the bill which will restore the Obamacare funding. But Senate rules prohibit this -- the amendment will pass with only a simple majority of 51 votes (even if the last vote is Joe Biden's, in a tie). Denied his dramatic "Mr. Cruz Goes To Washington" filibuster moment, Cruz decided to launch what is now universally termed his "fauxlibuster" -- a completely meaningless talk-a-thon. There are three separate reasons why Cruz talking all night was nothing short of idiocy and showboating: there was a time limit (unlike a real filibuster), Cruz could not prevent a vote (the entire purpose of a real filibuster), and the bill Cruz was talking about was the Tea Party House bill which did exactly what Cruz was begging for -- "defund" Obamacare (and which, if killed, would annoy the heck out of the Tea Party, to put it mildly).
After this pointless egotistical exercise, the Senate voted unanimously to move forward on the bill. Maybe it was having to hear Cruz claim that his father invented green eggs and ham (you just can't make this stuff up, folks). But when the rubber hit the road today, every single senator voted to take the bill up. Every Tea Partier -- even Ted Cruz himself -- voted for the motion, in the end.
So the point of the exercise becomes crystal clear: Ted Cruz wanted to be on television. That's pretty much it, in terms of any effective result that he achieved. In fact, it was so obvious that the worst invective against Cruz continues to come from his own party, as it has throughout this entire period. First, he led a crusade against the establishment Republicans. Then, he enraged the Tea Partiers. Finding himself backed into a corner, he grandstanded on the Senate floor, hoping that nobody would notice the uselessness and pointlessness of his last stand. Not only did he not find much support, he also saw his entire party -- including himself -- ignore his advice the next day, after his monumental 21 hours of trolling cable news television cameras.
John McCain seems to be leading the Senate Republicans in denouncing Cruz. Not only did he personally react to Cruz likening Obamacare to Nazi Germany (using "appeasement" as a metaphor for those who would not defund Obamacare), but two former senior McCain advisors had some strong words for Cruz and the Tea Partiers. Here is Mark Salter, directly explaining to the Tea Party base voters why the Tea Party take-no-prisoners approach will fail:
Because, dear bravehearts, you don't have the numbers to prevail. You're a minority. You're a minority in Congress and you're a minority in the country. A majority of Americans might tell pollsters they don't like Obamacare, but guess what? They like the idea of shutting down government even less, as every recent survey has shown. And they'll blame Republicans for it -- and make them pay for it.
You'll give a needed boost to the president's flagging popularity and diminish the Republican brand, which really can't take much more diminishing. And you'll delay the day when you might conceivably have the numbers to repeal Obamacare because you'll have made it a lot harder to elect a Senate majority in 2014. But you'll have stood by your conservative principles even to the point of sacrificing the prospects for their success.
And here is Steve Schmidt, another former McCain 2008 senior advisor, regretting his own previous embrace of the Tea Partiers:
We've lost five U.S. Senate seats over the last two election cycles and fundamentally we need Republicans whether they're running for president, whether they're in the leadership of the Congress to stand up against a lot of this [Tea Party] asininity. You finally see it with Ted Cruz, maybe he was the one that has gone a bridge too far. And as we come up against a potential default, potential government shutdown, wise people understand the political consequences for the Republican party. Maybe we'll start seeing our elected leaders stop being intimidated by this nonsense, have the nerve, have the guts to stand up and say enough is enough, this isn't what the Republican party's about. To fight to take conservatism's good name back from the freak show that's been running wild for four years and I have deep regret in my part, certainly, in initiating [it]. But it's time for Republicans to again embrace what made us successful in the past, which is a party that has solutions to the problems that face the country.
There is a full-scale civil war going on within the Republican universe. Comments like these are merely a sampling of what is currently being said by Republicans about fellow Republicans. It's not just in the halls of Congress, either. Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh are attacking Fox News. Karl Rove is attacking the Tea Party. What is that, if not fratricidal civil war?
There are two morals to this story. The first is that when a Big Lie is exposed to the harsh cold light of reality, those who believed the Big Lie freak out. They have bought into a worldview that is not true, and the shattering of the fantasy is going to hit some folks mighty hard. Think of Karl Rove on election night, last year. Epic meltdowns of this sort are just around the corner, folks -- scheduled for next Monday, in fact, when the House will be forced to vote on whatever bill the Senate comes up with.
The second moral to the story comes from the realm of fantasy fiction. There's a rule in many fantastical magical worlds which the wizardly types are supposed to hew to in their magic: "Do not call up that which you cannot put down." Do not summon a demon more powerful than yourself, to put it another way. You can trace this theme all the way back to Frankenstein's monster. Or you can track the idea back even further, as there is a Biblical quote with much the same advice: "They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind."
Back in 2009 and 2010, the Republican establishment thought that the Tea Party would be good for their party, and boost the grassroots to turn out at the polls. The Tea Party could be later tamed, when elections were won. As Steve Schmidt now admits, however, this is proving to be harder to accomplish than initially thought. While it certainly is interesting for Democrats to watch all of this -- the spectacle of a monster causing havoc while Dr. Frankenstein wrings his hands in regret -- perhaps today was the first step towards the Republican Party taking some responsibility for what they have unleashed upon our governing system. Because finally there is something which all of Washington agrees upon in truly bipartisan fashion: Ted Cruz is an egomaniacal loose cannon, and should be condemned or (even better) ignored. Hey, it's a start....
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