In the matter of a few days, Ted Cruz went from being the momentary voice of reason in the Republican party, by admitting that they don’t have the votes in the Senate to defund Obamacare, to announcing a kamikaze mission to filibuster the Republicans’ own bill to do so in order to…well, do something. Jonathan Bernstein explains his behavior:
The dynamic that drives much of what congressional Republicans do is very simple: They are terrified of being labeled squishes, RINOs or, even worse, liberals. In any objective sense, of course, this is nonsense; polarization in the House is at record levels, meaning that there’s a clear divide between even the most moderate members, with the most liberal Republican easily more conservative than the most conservative Democrat. Nevertheless, politicians are paranoid by nature, and in a world in which conservative Utah Sen. Bob Bennett was defeated for renomination, there’s enough evidence available in recent memory for them to act on that paranoia.
In practice, what that means is that mainstream conservatives try to avoid allowing any distance between themselves and whoever can plausibly call themselves “True Conservatives” and get away with it…Simply put: When you’ve reduced your entire movement to saying “no” to Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi, is it any surprise that whoever shouts “NO” the loudest will wind up defining what counts as “conservative”?
Indeed, if you happen to be a demagogue running for president on the platform that you are the only True Conservative and everyone else is a squish or a RINO or a secret liberal, then the best plan is to find the most convoluted, self-destructive, but nevertheless very loud way of saying “no.” Which is basically what Ted Cruz and his allies have done with the demand that Republicans tie keeping the government open to defunding the ACA.
In 2010, when the Tea Party was at its peak and sending far-right extremists to Congress by the dozen, I said that this would backfire on the Republicans. This is a perfect example of why. Tea Party zealotry makes compromise and pragmatism anathema; only purity matters and almost no one is ever pure enough. It’s a good way of playing to their base during primary season but it makes governing impossible and success in general elections far more difficult.