It seems that Sarah Palin is not the only politician who makes Rich Lowry see starbursts. Now he’s swooning over Ted Cruz as well. And it’s funny to me to see Lowry, the quintessential conservative beltway insider, resorting to cheap populism in making an argument for Cruz’ genius. Lowry concedes that Cruz’ grandstanding didn’t actually achieve anything, but that’s okay because it made Cruz into the second coming of St. Ronald the Magnificent.
The Cruz all-nighter wasn’t a legislative tactic so much as it was what 19th-century anarchists called “the propaganda of the deed.” It made a point. It dramatically reaffirmed Republican resolve to repealing Obamacare. It drove more debate about the health care law. It perhaps opened up space for more realistic immediate Republican goals, such as a delay in the individual mandate, in the impending fiscal fights.
It also saved Cruz’s reputation among the tea party conservatives he cares about most. The House passed its defunding measure in a passive-aggressive mood, as if to say, “Alright, big guy, you wanted this — now let’s see what you can do with it.” The reaction in the House when Cruz said the measure didn’t have the votes in the Senate was anger combined with schadenfreude at his presumed comeuppance. Rarely have so many harsh background quotes been given to so many reporters with such glee.
By spending nearly an entire day attacking Obamacare on the Senate floor, though, Cruz demonstrated enough personal commitment and gutsiness to take the sting out of his imminent defeat.In the longer run, the outcome in the short term is irrelevant to Cruz’s stature as a conservative leader. No one asked whether Ronald Reagan had successfully blocked the ratification of the Panama Canal Treaty in 1977 when he ran for president in 1980. For that matter, no one asked whether Sen. Barack Obama had successfully defunded the Iraq War in 2007 when he ran for president in 2008…
Who knows whether Cruz ultimately tries the same thing. But the scoffers are probably the same kind of people who chuckled at back-bencher Newt Gingrich giving speeches to an empty House chamber on C-SPAN so many decades ago. Gingrich was playing an outside game, and so is Cruz. The disdain for him among insiders will be inversely related to the admiration for him among the much more important outsiders.
They will sustain him in a crusade against Obamacare that, alas, will extend long beyond this fall’s fiscal fights.
This is a very common meme among beltway pundits like Lowry, the “he’s showing guts by bucking The Establishment and this will make him a hero among the people that really matter” meme. But it’s almost always nonsense. The problem is that the people that Cruz has made himself a hero to are a small minority. Only the most far-right conservatives want the government shut down to repeal Obamacare, which makes this populism without the actual popularity. And it may play very well in a Republican presidential primary that is determined by those very extremists. But it does the exact opposite in a general election.