What's playing out in Washington this week is a classic example of that old political shibboleth, "that may be what I said but that's not what I meant." Republicans are piously assuring us they have no desire to shut down the government only to go marching off toward the cliff. Then they have the chutzpah to claim it is all Barack Obama's fault because he refuses to pay the ransom they're demanding on the hostage their holding, namely the operating budget for the federal government, and the ransom is his agreement to defund the Affordable Care Act, the signature legislation of his presidency..
Along the way a civil war has broken out on multiple fronts among Congressional Republicans. It's House vs. Senate and establishment Republicans vs. tea party zealots.
The battle, reflecting the rise of a GOP faction even more extreme than the evangelical right, is one more reason Republican claims to a bigger share of the Jewish vote are pure myth. It's wackos like Cruz who will keep Jewish voters firmly in the Democratic fold for many elections to come.
To a large extent this internecine warfare pits veterans against more extreme recent arrivals on Capitol Hill who are convinced they were sent to Washington on a holy crusade to reshape government and that compromise is tantamount to treason. This is as much if not more responsible for the gridlock gripping Washington as the rivalry between Republicans and Democrats.
More than anyone else, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is the driving force behind the standoff that has tied defunding of Obamacare to passing a budget to keep the government operating when the new fiscal year begins October 1. A majority of Republicans in both chambers say they don't want to shut the government down, so why are so many marching to the cliff like lemmings?
They don't want to get "Cruzed," to be attacked from their right by even more conservative primary challengers accusing them of insufficient ideological purity as happened over the past two election cycles. In some instances, like Texas (Cruz), Utah (Mike Lee) and Kentucky (Rand Paul), the tea party favorite made it to the Senate, but in several others, like Delaware, Nevada, Missouri and Indiana, some loonies won the primaries but lost elections the GOP could have won.
Cruz has been the driving force in this confrontation, goading House Republican leaders to go along with a vocal but strident minority in their caucus to tie ACA funding to keeping the government open. The House passed that bill, largely along partisan lines, and sent it to the Senate, where Cruz had promised to do everything in his power to pass it.
But as soon as it arrived he ran up the white flag, saying he didn't have the votes and urged a filibuster, but said killing ACA was really up to the House. The hot air was taken out of that wind bag when the top Senate GOP leadership, Mitch McConnell (KY) and John Cornyn (TX) announced Monday they'd vote for cloture to shut down Cruz's threatened filibuster.
Both leaders are worried about being Cruzed in their own primaries next year, but they also are cncerned about the damage a government shutdown would do to the GOP.
When colleagues said they didn't want another government shutdown, Cruz kept telling them Obama might blink and back down, abandoning his signature achievement. Besides, he said, the last time Republicans shut down the government, in 1995-96, it was successful. I don't know what Cruz has been smoking but had he been around 20 years ago instead of just the past nine months he'd know his party can't afford more victories like that. Just ask ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich what it did for his political career and for House Republicans.
Cruz, whose idea of party unity is everyone should fall in step behind him, had earlier said any vote for cloture "is a vote for Obamacare" and Republicans who support passage of a bill to fund the government and not to defund ACA are cowards.
That brought a swift reply from angry House Republicans, already seething at Cruz for starting a fight he walked away from.
Cruz is the "real coward," said Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY); Rep. Peter King (R-NY) called him a fraud. Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) called him a bully who "refused to fight" but instead "wave(d) the white flag… Thank God he wasn't there fighting at the Alamo."
King said the best thing Cruz could do is shut up, and the best outcome of this episode would be an end to Cruz's influence and his ability to set the Republican agenda.
The damage Cruz has done to his relations with his Republican colleagues won't go away soon. Chris Wallace of Fox News said that when Cruz had been booked for his Sunday talk show Republican lawmakers and staffers called to urge him to "hammer" Cruz.
Republican critics say Cruz's loyalty is to Cruz, not the party, and his actions may advance the Cruz brand but they damage the GOP brand. He has been in the Senate since January but his focus has been on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Tilting at extremist windmills doesn't produce legislative accomplishment but it can increase his name recognition, solidify his base, raise big bucks and give him scapegoats to blame for his failures. Cruz is not a "follow me" leader but a "go get 'em" guy shouting from the rear.
Once the short-term funding bill (CR) passes, House tea partiers will begin focusing on their 42d vain vote to kill, cripple or maim Obamacare next month on legislation to raise the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling. After that it will be linked to renewing the CR that expires on December 15. Those and successive attempts to kill ACA will also fail so long as a Democrat is in the White House.
So why bother? Because it plays well with diehard conservatives and the big money boys on the far right. And isn't that what it's all about?