The Atlantic Wire has created three maps of conservative feuds. (Previously: 1, 2.) Each successive feud map has featured more fighters in more intense fights. In this edition: a sprawling conflict between the Tea Party and the GOP establishment, all swirling around Ted Cruz.
Cruz is like a Tea Party virus that finally penetrated the Washington establishment. In ten months, he gave Republicans a shutdown they didn't want, ruined their debt limit strategy, cratered their poll numbers, and raised more than $1 million for his own campaign. As has been extensively noted, many Republicans are not happy about this state of affairs. Neither are big business donors.
Meanwhile, the Tea Party types are not happy with how the establishment has responded to the Cruz situation. Erick Erickson, editor of the conservative blog RedState and influential among the defender caucus, said on Friday that he's donating money to oust Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Erickson summed up the problem facing the GOP quite nicely: "I do not expect to have to win every one of the races, but then the brilliance of this effort is that the establishment must win them all and we don’t have to."
So here's the battlefield, the rebellious insurgents of the Tea Party (and their enablers) pushing across the dividing line with the institutional Republican establishment (and their enablers).
And here are all of the skirmishes, explained.
House Speaker John Boehner did not want to shutdown the government over Obamacare. But Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz forced it to happen, with pressure from conservative groups like Heritage Action. Many GOP members of Congress warned this was a terrible idea, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who essentially said I told you so on Thursday. In future fights, "A government shutdown is off the table," he said. But he did not specifically single out Cruz. "I don’t have any observations to make on that."
Lots of other Republican senators, did, however. They include: Tennessee's Bob Corker, North Carolina's Richard Burr, Utah's Orrin Hatch, Tennessee's Lamar Alexander, South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, Arizona's John McCain. Not to mention: New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte, Arkansas' John Boozman, Wisconsin's Ron Johnson, and Indiana's Dan Coats. Ayotte reportedly started a "lynch mob" against Cruz at a meeting of senators when she demanded he renounce a Senate Conservatives Fund letter attacked those who didn't support the defunding effort. We can't bold other senators' names names, because they remain anonymous. But a Republican senator told Cruz, "The president gets up every day and reads the newspaper and thanks God that Ted Cruz is in the United States Senate."
Of course, the Senate didn't hog all the fun during the shutdown fight.
Battles in the House
California's Devin Nunes came up with one of the more evocative turns-of-phrase during the shutdown, referring to his pro-defunding, pro-fight colleagues as "lemmings with suicide vests." Included in that group are the Tea Party go-tos: Minnesota's Michele Bachmann, Iowa's Steve King, Texas' Louis Gohmert. Pushing the lemmings from the rear were conservatives from off of Capitol Hill. Sarah Palin and Erick Erickson both cheered on the caucus from the web as FreedomWorks organized the grassroots, largely by fundraising from them.
The cost of the Washington bad deal this week: $1 Trillion in debt. The value of exposing Republican collaborators: Priceless— Cong. Tim Huelskamp (@CongHuelskamp) October 18, 2013
Gohmert had his own side battle. Gohmert told the Value Voters Summit that Sen. John McCain befriended members of Al Qaeda in Syria. McCain dismissed the attack by saying that "if someone has no intelligence, I don’t view it as being a malicious statement." And then Gohmert responded back, suggesting (weirdly) that McCain would be better off with no intelligence. Gohmert wasn't the only one taking on McCain: failed presidential candidate Donald Trump dissed the senator earlier this month.
The Vitter brawl
Louisiana Sen. David Vitter proposed eliminating the subsidies lawmakers and their staffers get for health insurance as part of a government funding bill. For the relatively low-paid Capitol Hill staff, it would have been a big pay cut. Ted Cruz backed it. But Maine Sen. Susan Collins, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, and Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander all publicly criticized it. While House Speaker John Boehner supported it publicly, he'd worked behind the scenes to block it.
Looking forward to 2016 — and back to 2000
The Senate Conservatives Fund endorsed Matt Bevin, who's challenging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Republican Senate primary in Kentucky next year. SCF, which circulated a pro-defunding flyer that enraged New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, also endorsed Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who is running against Sen. Thad Cochran. The Club for Growth endorsed McDaniel, too. RedState editor Erick Erickson endorsed both these primary challenges, promising to donate money to each.
Liz Cheney has fashioned herself as the outsider daughter of a former vice president in her primary challenge against Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi. Naturally, Cheney said in a September interview, "There are a number of the younger senators I have been impressed with. Ted [Cruz] is one of them, Mike Lee is another one." But Enzi, too, is keeping himself close to Cruz, signing the letter calling for the defund-or-shutdown strategy. (That's why his icon has a dotted border — and why he's straddling the dividing line between the two sides.)
Other Bush-era Republicans have spoken up in the shutdown recriminations. "Barack Obama set the trap. Some congressional Republicans walked into it," Karl Rove wrote of the shutdown disaster this week. When asked what John Boehner and Mitch McConnell should do about the Ted Cruz types, former Senate majority leader Trent Lott said, "You roll them... I do think we need stronger leadership, and there’s got to be some pushback on these guys who think they came here with all the solutions." But former House Majority Leader Tom Delay defended Cruz, saying, "I got to tell you right now, out here in the real world, outside of New York and Washington, D.C., these people think Ted Cruz is a hero."