Friday, October 16, 2015

The Cruz Effect

by JASmius

Former Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn is spot-on, absolutely correct about Ted Cruz's pie-in-the-sky "If we FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! hard enough, we can win!" foolishness that he passes off as a strategy dating back to the ObamaCare "defunding"/government "shutdown" debacle two years ago whose effects have lingered to this day in and through the House Freedom Caucus.  Indeed, John Boehner owes his retirement decision to it, trapped for four years between Barack Obama and Harry (G)Reid on one side and Tea Partiers demanding he perform miracles on the other.

"The Cruz effect" is the perfect label for this neurosis that is eating the GOP alive:

Former Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn slammed what he called "the Cruz effect" — saying Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz's rhetoric and the Texas senator's inability to follow through on his promises have caused great disenchantment among Americans toward Congress....

"When you tell people you can accomplish something that you can't — for example, shutting down the government over the [Una]ffordable Care Act," Coburn said.

"When, in fact, you promise people in your speeches and your talk that we can do this, and — by dinghy — we're gonna get rid of the [Una]ffordable Care Act, and all we have to do is shut down the government."

"Well, that's one thing to tell 'em that," Coburn continued. "It's a whole other thing to be able to accomplish that, and build a coalition that once you shut it, that it doesn't get opened up till you win."...

And when even some Tea Partiers balked at Senator Cruz's pipedream?

"So what happens to that is, once you've told people that, and you've put your finger — 'everybody that doesn't believe exactly like I believe, you're not a patriot, you don't care about the country' — what you do is you create greater disappointment in the hinterlands, because you gave them a false hope, knowing that you couldn't accomplish it, but it was about yelling, and screaming, and waving the flag," he said.

And raising his national profile in advance of his 2016 presidential bid, as I wrote at the time.  Which runs at cross-purposes with alienating most of his own party by slurring any acknowledgement of reality as "selling out" to the "surrender caucus".  Not exactly the most effective way of building influence and gathering intra-party support and goodwill.

I wrote and said going back to the 2010 midterm blowout that only controlling the House meant that the GOP was limited to playing defense, but that at least they COULD play defense.  Going on offense, however, was out of the question.  Yet that is precisely the expectation Senator Cruz stirred up.

I also said that once Republicans regained the majority in the Senate, as they did last November, those expectations would be more justified, not in terms of getting legislation enacted into law, but in terms of using unified control of Congress to set the agenda and the table for the 2016 presidential campaign.  An aspect of big-picture political strategy which has repeatedly gone over the heads of Boehner and Mitch McConnell, but still isn't enough for Tea Partiers who still demand miracles on such things as defunding Planned Parenthood, which is every bit as unrealistic (because almost all of it flows through Medicaid - and, of course, Barack Obama would veto it) as "defunding" ObamaCare was.

TPers refuse to understand a great many things, but in particular, that, to employ a football metaphor, the idea isn't to throw eighty-yard bombs on every play, but to keep the chains moving.  Get what you can and keep coming back for more.  Stand on your principles when and where you can, compromise when and where you must.  Half a loaf is better than none at all.  "Hit 'em hard, hit 'em constantly, hit 'em from every angle" isn't always the best approach.  Sometimes you have to take a step backward to take two or three steps forward.  In short, politics is not static, but fractally fluid.  And it's difficult to build momentum when you're doing nothing but engaging in high-risk, low-return brinksmanship that thrills your base but alienates everybody else.

Stu Rothenberg argues that the only way to get this lesson through to the Tea Party is by nominating Ted Cruz and watching him get buried in a 1964 Barry Goldwater-magnitude landslide:

But could Cruz win? I don’t think so. He might well carry all or most of the twenty-two states that McCain carried in 2008, and if the Democrat nominee is damaged badly enough and Barack Obama’s standing in national polls low enough, I suppose it might be possible that he could win.

But it is far more likely that Cruz would underperform among swing voters and suffer additional Republican defections. His nomination would enable Democrats to make the election a referendum on him and the tea party, and it isn’t difficult to imagine 2016 becoming a modern day version of 1964, when Republicans suffered a humiliating defeat.

A Cruz nomination would virtually guarantee Democrat control of the Senate after November’s elections. GOP senators in States such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and, of course, Illinois would have little chance of being re-elected, and the party’s prospects in a handful of other Senate races, (e.g., Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and even Arizona) would suddenly become more worrisome…

[A] clear and convincing defeat is the only thing in the foreseeable future that has any chance of convincing Freedom Caucus types in the Republican Party that their strategy is flawed and they have helped damage the Republican brand. (Alas, even a crushing defeat wouldn’t convince everyone.)

I think Rothenberg is a hopeless optimist about that.  The core of the Tea Party mentality is that they take stubborn pride in their mistakes, and that acknowledging and learning from them constitutes "selling out".  The bigger the defeat, the better they like it, because they prefer to agitate from the outside and remain "pure" rather than win elections, have to govern, and engage in all the compromises and "log-rolling" and "playing the political game" that comes along with it.  A Cruz disaster would be a TP badge of honor, as well as a fresh pretext for more fratricidal attacks on the "establishment," on whom they would, naturally, blame that third straight presidential election ass-kicking.

I don't know that Cruz would lose THAT badly - true landslides are a thing of the past - but his defeat would be highly likely, not because he's "too conservative," but because of that abrasive, hectoring, "take no prisoners" demeanor.  The Texas senator is not the "sunny optimist" that Ronald Reagan was; he has no ability to attract "independents" and what used to be known as "Reagan Democrats" to the conservative banner.  He's far more the strident ideological warrior, not a bridge-builder.  And he'd be an easy target for the Democrat/Media Complex.  He'd win the solidly "red" States, but he wouldn't be competitive in "swing" States.  A Cruz-Rodham matchup would raise the question of whether it is actually possible for both candidates to lose the same election.  But a Cruz-Biden contest would turn out much like 2008 did.

That's the sense in which the Left is proving to be correct in their original prediction that the Tea Party would be the death of the GOP.  Not, again, because it's "too far to the Right," but because it expects to entitledly dominate politics without actually engaging in it.  "Demanding the ends but denying the means," put another way.  And they blame their own party's leaders - who, heaven knows, have their own faults - for the fact that it just doesn't, and can't, work that way.

Republicans earned the derisive nickname "the Stupid Party" decades ago.  The Cruz Effect is simply its latest manifestation.

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