The inevitable shutdown post-mortems are rolling in, and two unsurprising things are clear: Republican leaders are annoyed it ever happened, and the focus of that annoyance is the sad-eyed senator from Texas, Ted Cruz. To his glee.
Cruz went out of his way to become the face of the shutdown, of course, so the reaction isn't in the least surprising. Since the advent of the Tea Party shortly after the election of President Obama, there has been a tension between the Republican establishment in Washington and the activists yelling at it from the outside. Even as Tea Party sympathizers started winning elections, the party power structures remained largely indifferent to the activists. Cruz, however, was happy to be a highly visible vessel for their anger — and as a senator, was well-positioned and empowered to leverage it.
In Politico's detailed review of the politics behind the shutdown, a conversation between Speaker John Boehner and Obama is revelatory.
“John, what happened?” Obama asked, according to people briefed on the Oct. 2 conversation.
“I got overrun, that’s what happened,” Boehner said.
Cruz was the one leading that insurrection. And now that it has failed, reporters are getting no shortage of quotes about the junior senator.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was quick to point out that there was no need to ask Democrats to criticize Cruz in an interview with The Huffington Post. Reid: "Republicans criticized him. What do you think that vote was last night from Republicans? That was a message to Ted Cruz: 'What the hell are you doing?' … He is a laughing stock to everybody but him."
Not that that stopped Reid from taking aim. "He has always been able to talk down to people. He is now in the Senate. People are as smart as he is. He can't talk down to anyone anymore. But he has still not accepted that in his own head. He still thinks he's smarter than everybody else. He might be able to work a calculus problem better than I can. But he can't legislate better than I can."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, talking to The National Review's Robert Costa, was unusually reserved on the subject, though his staff leaked at least one embarrassing story about Cruz not understanding Senate procedure. (McConnell still has a primary campaign to run against a deeply conservative opponent.)
Costa: One last thing: What’s your take on Senator Ted Cruz, who led the “quixotic venture”?
McConnell: I don’t have any observations to make on that.
But some of the best quotes on Cruz come in reported quotes from generally anonymous sources. That Politico story is full of them.
- "The president gets up every day and reads the newspaper and thanks God that Ted Cruz is in the United States Senate," a Republican senator told Cruz.
- "'He is so incredibly immature,' sniffed one GOP senator who attended the lunch."
- Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas "pointedly told Cruz he hadn’t been bullied since middle school, and he wouldn’t be bullied now."
Cruz does have his defenders. Veteran conservative pundit Pat Buchanan fumed about the establishment's rejection of Cruz, calling them a "basket of wimps." Former House Majority Leader (and one-time jailbird) Tom Delay also came to Cruz's defense. "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," Delay told CNN. "They think that those Republicans in the House are heroes. And they think that Obama is destroying this country."
Which is — again, again, again — precisely the point. It's why McConnell won't criticize Cruz; he knows that Cruz is an even-more-powerful force within the Republican grassroots. In an interview with ABC News, Cruz said that he's "not serving in office because I desperately needed 99 new friends in the U.S. Senate." He's serving in the Senate to make a few million friends in primary states prior to 2016. And he's doing a pretty good job of it.