Ted Cruz is pulling some Matrix-worthy moves, dodging the attacks of his colleagues as he obstinately refuses to allow logic or immediate political realities to dissuade him from his crusade (a word we made up: Cruzsade) against Obamacare. The Republican establishment keeps taking shots, and Cruz keeps dodging them, and brushing them off, and absorbing them with a grinning shrug. The damage is all done elsewhere.
Opposition from Democrats was always expected, of course, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's evisceration of Cruz's plan on Monday didn't require any critiques from other Democrats. Instead, it relied primarily on comments from other Republicans, who called Cruz's push a variety of disparaging things: a "box canyon," the "dumbest idea ever," a "suicide note." To which Cruz responded with the Senate floor speech equivalent of "No, you're the dumbest idea ever." It was the first "u mad bro?" in the history of the upper chamber.
But like so many Agent Smiths furiously punching away at a much-faster foe, the Republican establishment keeps missing with its attempts to take Cruz down, making their situation consistently worse. According to The Washington Post, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will oppose Cruz's plan. That plan, in short, involves blocking the House continuing resolution that would fund the government until December except for costs associated with Obamcare. (Cruz wants to stall the measure so that Reid can't remove the Obamacare exception. There doesn't appear to be any next step.) Breitbart.com reports that a source suggests McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas will be trying to persuade their colleagues to join their fight. (In the GQ profile of Cruz we noted on Monday, Cornyn is depicted as being cowed by Cruz's popularity in the state they represent.) More specifically, the anonymous source says that McConnell and Cornyn are trying to get enough votes "to shut down debate on the House continuing resolution so that Harry Reid can gut it with just 51 votes." Breitbart.com has been staunchly supportive of the Cruzsade.
Shot fired by Mitch McConnell. Target hit: Mitch McConnell, just in time for his primary fight.
The Wall Street Journal, never a champion of the health care policy, on Tuesday published its second anti-defunding editorial in a week. "Miracles happen," the editorial board writes, "but it would rank as one for the ages if Mr. Obama agreed to defund his signature Presidential achievement." Noting that Cruz and his colleague Mike Lee of Utah have "thus got their way," the paper reserves its harshest critique for those smoothing that path. Over the summer, Cruz toured the country with the activist arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, calling for precisely the stubbornness he's now displaying. Conservative commentators (like those at Breitbart) have cheered him on. The Journal:
These columns opposed ObamaCare before it was known by that name, and we may have even been the first to call it by that name. We also don't need any lectures about principle from the Heritage Foundation that promoted RomneyCare and the individual mandate that is part of ObamaCare. Or from cable TV pundits who sold Republicans on Mitt Romney despite RomneyCare.
Shot fired by the Journal. Target hit: Heritage and the commentariat. (Side note: The Journal was not the first to use the term "Obamacare.")
These are only the most recent examples, of course. Speaker John Boehner, in allowing the House vote that Cruz and the conservative base demanded, was hoping to vent conservative steam. But that, too, was a misfire, empowering Cruz's fight. The 228 Republicans that voted to approve the Boehner-Cruz plan are just as culpable. The establishment decided to organize the circular firing squad and arm everyone participating, assuring them that it was the best way to muffle Cruz. And here we are.
Part of the reason that Cruz is still bulletproof is that he still has support from the deeply, vocally conservative base. Just as Obama's Syria reconsideration was almost certainly driven by the volume of grass-roots opposition, that same sort of enthusiasm is fueling Cruz. The Daily Beast's David Frum notes, as others have before, that this plays to Cruz's long game. "In the Senate, Cruz may look right now the very opposite of shrewd," Frum writes. "But the view Cruz cares about is the view from Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina—and from there he looks like a hero to many of the Republicans who'll choose the party's nominee in 2016." His likely 2016 opponents have taken notice; Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, for example, seems to be scrambling to figure out how to reinvigorate his conservative credentials, now opposing a once pro forma approval of a judge to the federal bench.
If Cruz continues to be rewarded by voters for obstructing even the governance attempts of his own party, there is little disincentive for others seeking higher (or renewed) office to do the same. It's probably the natural end point for a political party that's prided itself on its opposition to government. At some point, supporters will ask why they keep trying to govern.
Photo: Cruz, background, watches McConnell speak. (AP)