You know that Ted Cruz’s brinkmanship tactics have gone too far when even Rand Paul, the original Mr. Filibuster, is fed up with him. On Tuesday, Paul criticized his fellow senator and Republican presidential candidate for his excessive intransigence, signaling that Cruz’s stature within that body has reached a new low. “Ted has chosen to make this really personal and chosen to call people dishonest in leadership and call them names, which really goes against the decorum and also against the rules of the Senate,” Paul said. “As a consequence he can’t get anything done legislatively.”
That an anti-establishment figure like Paul is now standing up to defend the decorum of the Senate demonstrates the extent to which Cruz has antagonized his colleagues. That process reached a head Monday night, when frustrated senators coordinated to block Cruz from even speaking. “It’s easy to make Washington and the establishment and leadership a punching bag,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn explained afterwards. “There’s [not] much mystery” as to why Cruz is quixotically thrusting himself front and center and urging senate leaders to “fight” in the latest government funding debate, Cornyn added. (Everyone has begun to recognize Cruz’s attention grabs for what they are.)
Fight how? This is the question that nearly all of Cruz’s Senate chums want him to answer. Most directly, Sen. Kelly Ayotte—a New Hampshire Republican up for re-election this cycle—sent Cruz a letter demanding answers. “During the last government shutdown, I repeatedly asked you what your strategy for success was … but I did not receive an answer,” the letter read. “I am again asking this question and would appreciate you sharing your strategy for success with all of us before any damaging government shutdown becomes imminent.”
Cruz will not be able to shut down the government in the immediate term after a temporary funding measure passed in Congress Wednesday, but he’ll get another chance around Christmastime. Again, he will use his platform as a presidential candidate to espouse myths that Republicans can enact their entire ideological agenda through the government funding process and win a shutdown battle over positions that are broadly unpopular. Again, he will frame Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s and likely House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s objections to a shutdown as a matter of weakness and “surrender politics.” Again, he will alienate all of his congressional colleagues—save his few dozen friends in the “Tortilla Coast Caucus” on the other side of the Capitol—and he will argue that it’s because they’re creatures of Washington. He will tell the public that the government can work the opposite of the way it’s designed to work rather than speaking honestly. He will try to screw things up to boost his own political prospects—and he will do so knowingly.
Ted Cruz is the most cynical candidate in the presidential race. Congratulations to him—it’s an achievement.
It’s one thing for Donald Trump, Bobby Jindal, or some other candidate from outside Washington to rail against congressional Republicans for not “fighting” hard enough against the simple mathematical problems that prevent them from repealing the Affordable Care Act or defunding Planned Parenthood. It’s quite another for Cruz, a sitting senator, to use his powers as an elected official to hold up the nation’s basic business on crusades that have approximately zero chance of success. If he wants to give rousing speeches on the Senate floor, fine. But the work he does to foil the Senate leadership’s plans (forcing them to develop months-long strategies to counter him), while stringing along like-minded House Republicans who maintain veto power over their own leadership, is a deeply mischievous ploy. He’s been at it a long time.
What’s worse, Cruz’s entire bad-faith campaign and its tactics are based on a contradiction: that this Congress should be able to achieve Republican goals without holding the White House but Republicans need a fighter like him in the White House to achieve those goals. In a recent op-ed, Cruz attempted to directly refute the leadership position that there’s little Republicans can do without the presidency or a veto-proof Congressional majority:
If Republican majorities in Congress will acquiesce to and affirmatively fund the identical Big Government priorities that Obama supports, then what difference does it make who is in charge of Congress?
In 2010, we were told that Republicans would stand and fight if only we had a Republican House. In 2014, we were told that Republicans would stand and fight just as soon as we won a majority in the Senate and retired Harry Reid. In both instances, the American people obliged. Now we’re told that we must wait until 2017 when we have a Republican president.
Control of the House allowed Republicans to stop consideration of Obama and congressional Democrats’ legislative agenda, period. Control of the Senate has allowed them to stop consideration of Obama’s judicial nominees. Control of both houses of Congress offers Republicans excellent opportunities to draft compromise legislation with the White House on shared priorities. The reason that Republicans are unable to repeal the Affordable Care Act or defund Planned Parenthood is that they are not pieces of compromise legislation—they are unpopular positions that a Democratic president faces no pressure to sign and a Democratic Senate minority feels no pressure to allow votes on. That’s the way the imperfect American system of government is designed to work.
Ted Cruz is a bright guy. He understands that James Madison and pals didn’t design a system of government through which the party not holding the White House could achieve legislative progress by banishing federal workers to their homes for a few weeks. It is a system where the party that controls Congress is unlikely to achieve major legislative end goals that run directly counter to the president’s top priorities. But maybe Madison was just another Washington establishment coward who didn’t have the spine to fight.