Some not-miniscule segment of America is riveted by the spectacle of a man who has spent nearly a full day talking about the federal budget and health insurance policy. Ted Cruz's ongoing not-a-buster is dramatic in a way that such issues — and even many campaign ads — usually are not. We suspect it, and the Ted Cruz 2016 campaign it is in service to, will get even more dramatic before it's over.
Those who enjoy politics enjoy politics largely independent of the resulting policy. It's the show, the tension, the maneuvering. For those people (ourselves included) this filibuster has been an unalloyed pleasure.
With notable and important exceptions. First of all, it is not actually a filibuster. It's a phonybuster, a fakeibuster. The rules around the bill at issue — the funding resolution passed by the House that removed any allocations for Obamacare — mean that there will be a vote Wednesday to move it forward. Cruz isn't blocking the bill, just postponing the vote by 24 hours or so. And, remember, the bill that Cruz is delaying is the one he wants to pass — but he realizes that once the vote happens, the Senate Democratic majority will strip out the Obamacare exemption and it then goes back to the House.
So what's Cruz doing? At first, we thought it was likely that his goal was three-fold. One, save face with House Republicans who he angered by suggesting that the fight he'd insisted on was doomed in the Senate. (Which it was, of course.) The second goal was to raise his profile among non-far-right Republicans, where his months-long push to defund President Obama's health care plan has already taken hold. And third, he wanted to build up some video clips that could be used for future campaign ads when he runs for president in 2016. Which, barring some sort of implosion, he will.
But now we realize that this actually just the first campaign ad Ted Cruz is releasing for that campaign. This is, itself, the opening salvo of the 2016 campaign. It is Ted Cruz precisely where he wants to be: in front of an open mic and a rolling camera. Say whatever you want for as long as you want, and have it streamed online. In 1992, outliet presidential candidate Ross Perot had to pay major networks to run his half-hour ads that focused on his economic reform ideas. Cruz has gotten nearly an entire day of that, at taxpayer expense. This is why he's been joined on the floor by the other Republican senators likely to have a shot at winning the conservative vote in 2016: Marco Rubio, Rand Paul. They want to be in the campaign ad, too.
As we noted when Cruz's foray into the wilderness began, his speech largely echoes his brief one on Monday, which was fraught with logical inconsistencies and factual inaccuracies. You could use this list of fallacies as a sort of Bingo card, pointing out when Cruz offered a slippery slope argument or ambiguity or extrapolating from anecdotal evidence to the country as a whole. He spent a long time last night reciting tweets that supported him as evidence that America broadly opposes Obamacare, suggesting that if the voters had their say, they'd elect people who would get rid of the law. Voters have had that opportunity, of course, repeatedly, and have largely maintained the members of the Senate that approved the bill. Also: We assume Ted Cruz knows the origin of the "Obama" in Obamacare, but if not, it refers to the president that America re-elected last year handily.
These things, the factual inaccuracies and rhetorical stretches, blur over the course of a day of talking. Cruz is making his name on this speech, and will, for an indefinite period, be the face of the Obamacare opposition.
So how does this Cruz thing end? We know how it end ends — Obamacare survives. The process is moving forward. The process of implementing the exchanges is moving forward; the process of approving the budget in the Senate is moving forward. But how does this end, this sortabuster?
We have a theory. This is Ted Cruz's big campaign ad, and like any compelling bit of drama, it needs to end with a moment of tension. The Senate is due to cast a vote in the middle of the day, at which point Cruz would need to yield the floor. It is entirely possible he will refuse to do so, at least temporarily, forcing the Senate Democrats that control the chamber to figure out how to move forward. Maybe the Sergeant-at-Arms will be called! Maybe someone will put his arm on Ted Cruz's sleeve, as the exhausted senator, eyes to the ceiling, rails against this tragedy that will befall our nation. Then there will be a vote, and then a final vote later this week, and then regular-ol' policy work starts humming again. But Ted Cruz will have had his moment.
Update, 11:30 a.m.: Cruz's strategy to wrap things up was slightly different. He asked the majority — the Democrats — to be allowed to continue past the noon deadline. If they wouldn't do so, if they chose to "cut off and muzzle us," in Cruz's words, it's the Democrats who deserve the blame.