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The Cruz Armageddon

A new Pew poll shows Tea Partiers’ devotion to the otherwise divisive senator. Can the Republican establishment stop him before it’s 2016? By Michael Tomasky.

Did you catch Ted Cruz’s numbers in that Pew poll that came out this week? You may not have, because there were a few other things going on. So take a guess as to his favorable ratings among Tea Party people. I can tell you that 18 percent expressed no opinion, so the numbers add up to 82. So, 65-17, 68-14? Could he possibly have topped 70?


Andrew Burton/Getty Images

He sure could have. It was 74-8. Eight! It used to be 47-10 in a prior poll. In other words, a lot of people who weren’t able to form an opinion of him now can, and it’s swooning. Among non-Tea Party Republicans, as you’d imagine, a rather different story: It’s 56-44 (everyone has an opinion!). That’s favorable, but it ain’t 74-8. And in these numbers, among dozens of other auguries, we see the Armageddon that’s coming in the GOP between now and 2016. What on earth are the establishment Republicans going to do about this man?

Examine with me a few more numbers, from an earlier Pew survey taken over the summer. That one found that while Tea Party people make up 40 percent of Republican voters, they make up 49 percent, or roughly half, of those who vote in every primary. Got that? OK.

Sanity Time?

After the Bloodbath

Let’s be blunt, shall we? This was a disaster for the country, and an utterly pointless disaster. Chuck Schumer had it right last night in his brief remarks after the Senate vote. No one had any cause to be happy. Seventeen days and $2 billion in lost government revenue and $25 billion in lost economic activity later, by some estimates, we are exactly at the point where we on Sept. 30. It all could have been averted if John Boehner had simply allowed a vote—as he’d promised Harry Reid he would—on the Senate’s “clean CR,” which would have passed.

But maybe it wasn’t utterly pointless. At least the American people did get to see what assassins the Republicans are. That was valuable. Many of us have been trying to say for many years now about Washington’s polarization and dysfunction that yes, both sides are to blame, there are no Boy Scouts here, but the sides are not remotely equally to blame, and this is a crucial point, and journalists and commentators who keep insisting on framing things this way out of some devotion to “balance” that is out of whack with the facts of reality are disserving the republic; lying, basically. I don’t think now any commentator can seriously maintain that fiction. Even David Broder himself, were he around, would be pointing fingers now.

Ross Douthat, whom I sometimes reprove for pulling a punch or two when assessing the activities and habits of Republican legislators, is on target today:

So for undeluded conservatives of all persuasions, lessons must be learned. If the party’s populists want to shape and redefine and ultimately remake the party, they can’t pull this kind of stunt again. If the party’s leadership wants to actually lead, whether within the G.O.P. or in the country at large, they can’t let this kind of stunt be pulled again. That’s the only way in which this pointless-seeming exercise could turn out to have some sort of point: If it’s long remembered, by its proponents and their enablers alike, as the utter folly that it was.  

Sickening Day

Capitol Hill Chaos

Tuesday might have ended with the Senate on the cusp of a deal to avert a default, but it also featured Boehner bowing and scraping to his House crazies to come up with a competing plan that failed. Michael Tomasky on the horror.

This is a sad and sickening spectacle, like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life. Not as bad as Watergate, you say? I beg to differ. However this turns out—and there were reports as I was writing Tuesday night that the House might finally run up the white flag here—this has been in its way worse than Watergate. Watergate ultimately vindicated our system against the machinations of one sociopath. It took time, because he was a president. But even he ultimately observed democratic norms and, when cornered, did the honorable thing.

The shutdown according to everyone else.

Today, we have a clavern of sociopaths who know nothing of honor, and we have no easy way to stop them. Except at the ballot box. Except that they’ve rigged that, too, with their House districts. They’ve rigged the whole game so that they light the match and then point at President Obama and shout: “Look! Fire!” And overseeing it all is House Speaker John Boehner, as of Tuesday officially the worst high-ranking elected officer in the history of the United States.

I know, there’s been a congeries of drunkards and rapists I can barely imagine. I don’t care. Boehner is worse than all of them. Let’s review what happened Tuesday.

What the Senate is working on is not what I'd exactly call a deal. It's more like a temporary cessation of hostilities. Really: What good is a deal to keep the government open until mid-January, and to approve borrowing authority until February 7? In between now and then, we're supposed to believe that Congress and the administration are going to come to terms on all the big budget questions that we know they can't possibly come to terms on?

But before we get to all that, we have to consider two questions.

First, will Ted Cruz and/or Mike Lee let the deal move through the Senate quickly enough to avert default? The Senate will have to expedite its usual clock to do that, and that requires...dum da-dum...unanimous consent. Cruz was asked about yesterday and said, "We need to see what the details are." Great. There's our Senate. One man can totter the world economy.

Okay, let's assume for the moment that Cruz doesn't do that, and the negotiating senators nail down the final points of disagreement here, which they are apparently expected to do. Then the second question: Will the House vote for this?

New Radicals

Can Big Biz Break the Right?

Forty years ago, business interests banded together to push back against the left—and succeeded brilliantly. But now the monster they created has turned on them, says Michael Tomasky.

Back in the early 1970s, corporate America got together and developed a plan of action to combat the takeover of America by what they saw as an unremittingly radical left. If we don’t act and get politically engaged, these corporate titans said, this country is going down the chute.


Thomas "Tom" Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013. "We've reached the point to put politics aside and do the economics and for the president and the leaders of the House and Senate to get into the same room," Donohue said. (SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty )

Forty years later, corporate America beholds the monster it created. And now, these same institutions need to step up and rein in an unremittingly radical right. Only they can stop this nonsense, and it will take an effort as concerted and well-organized as the one they undertook in the 70s.

Here’s what happened then. In the 1960s and early 70s, a good chunk of America’s corporate elite really did feel that the free-enterprise system was under threat. In 1971, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce asked Lewis Powell, then a corporate lawyer in Richmond who would soon be nominated to the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon, to tell them how to save America. The result was the famous Powell memo, which urged the Chamber to start fighting back to protect the system before it was too late in the following arenas: on college campuses; in the media; in the courts; at stockholder and shareholder meetings; and in the political realm.

Turning Point

The Day the Mad Dogs Took Over

It was a historic Thursday: The GOP finally and fully succumbed to its cultural rage. Michael Tomasky on a tumultuous day in Washington’s shutdown drama.

It was a head-spinning day in Washington, yesterday was, as the story seemed to change from hour to hour in terms of who was proposing or accepting or refusing what and who seemed up and who seemed down. But through it all, one constant did not change and doesn’t seem likely to change: The Republicans are wrecking themselves.


Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Indeed, historically so. This is one of those turning points in American political history, the kind you’ll tell your grandkids you were around to see: a once-respectable party that finally was eaten alive by the cultural rage it had so long used to its advantage but held in check in order to win elections. It was a long time coming and it’s a grand thing to watch, provided they don’t wreck the country along with themselves.

First, a quick recap. Thursday morning, John Boehner finally picked up on the signals the White House had been sending and offered a “clean” but short-term debt-limit increase. Since Boehner clearly knew that such a measure wouldn’t get votes from his loony-tunes caucus, he was aiming for something that might pass with a combination of Republican and Democratic votes. That was admirable. But there was a problem: He proposed to do nothing about the government shutdown until Nov. 22, and that was something most Democrats wouldn’t have gone for.


Warlord Swimming Lessons

After 81 days in captivity, you really get to know someone. Photographer Jonathan Alpeyrie recalls teaching a Syrian warlord how to swim.

It’s not all soldiers and veterans at The Hero Summit. You’ve probably never heard of Jonathan Alpeyrie, and you may not think of photographers as heroes. But you might think just a little differently after you hear the story of his recent captivity in Syria for 81 days.

Speaking to The Daily Beast’s Christopher Dickey, Alpeyrie revealed new details of his capture and captivity, which serve to remind that some journalists, too, risk life and limb. Alpeyrie was at home in Paris with about 10 days to kill until his next scheduled assignment, he said, when he decided to make his third trip to Syria to cover the civil war.

He spent time with some rebel groups, he said, and about a week into his sojourn, he was about 20 miles outside of Damascus with his fixer and one other when they drove into a checkpoint. “It was a trap,” he said. He was dragged out of the car and blindfolded. Someone held a pistol to his head and pretended to shoot. It’s how they break your will, he said, adding: “You feel like you’re dreaming, like it’s not really happening. It’s very strange.”

His kidnappers, he said, were a local militia group run by a warlord. For the first five weeks, he was blindfolded and handcuffed. Then, without explanation, he was moved to a different safe house, and the blindfold and handcuffs were taken off.

Hope Springs

Can the Senate Save Us?

It’s in the Senate’s hands now. If a few Republicans vote for Harry Reid’s debt measure, pressure will mount on John Boehner to tell the crazies to stuff it, says Michael Tomasky.

And now we go back to the Senate. Harry Reid announced yesterday afternoon that he’s going to present a “clean” (no Obamacare measures, no anything else) debt-limit increase, to last through December 2014, to the upper house. The vote, or at least the first vote, will take place Thursday. And the questions are straightforward: One, will Mitch McConnell permit (or can he prevent) a filibuster by one or more of the extremists? Two, if there is a filibuster, are there six Republicans, just six, who would agree that helping send the U.S. government to its first-ever default is something they don’t want on their resumes or in their obituaries? If Senate Republicans can grow up in the next 48 hours, maybe they can make John Boehner grow up, too. That’s about the best hope we’ve got.

Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell

Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell. (Getty (2))

Here’s where we are. Monday, Salon reported that Reid had cooked up a plan to introduce legislation to change fundamentally the way Congress dealt with the question of the debt limit. I described it in a blog post yesterday, so I won’t do it again. But there’s another reason I won’t do it again: Reid dropped it. He and his aides, I’m told, decided to hold it in reserve as a possible future move, but for now, it complicated things. Reid decided he wants a simple bill, just a clean and straightforward debt-limit increase, in an attempt to get as many Senate Republicans as he can to agree to the simple proposition that the United States government shouldn’t default.

So. The two questions. On the first one, it may be the case that McConnell can’t prevent a filibuster. If Mike Lee or Rand Paul or Ted Cruz or someone else really wants to dig in, under the rules McConnell can’t stop it. But there are the rules, and then there are the real rules, the way the place really works. I can’t unravel the mysteries of the Senate Republican caucus for you. I can note that Lee and Jim DeMint did filibuster the 2011 debt-limit increase, the first-ever filibuster of a debt-limit vote. A bill was cobbled together then, the bill that ultimately led to the sequester, that got 76 votes. Even McConnell voted aye.

A Way Out

Harry Reid's Latest Move

Brian Beutler of Salon reports on a new card that Harry Reid is about to play. It's a little complicated, so I hope I'm explaining this clearly.

Back during the 2011 debt fight, Mitch McConnell of all people proposed that the president should have the authority to increase the debt limit unilaterally unless two-thirds of both houses of Congress objected. McConnell's idea is explained more fully here.

Why would McConnell have given Obama that authority? Not because he wanted to do something nice for him. Rather, it was to spare Congress the trouble of having to cast a difficult vote, and to make the president take all the political heat for increasing the debt limit, a move that never polls well. So in 2011, this would have given Republicans and Mitt Romney another arrow--the profligate Obama irresponsibly raising our debt, etc etc.

Reid is now revisiting that proposal. He plans to introduce legislation along exactly these lines. What's his motiviation? I think it's as follows.

Default Is Fine!

Three Coming GOP Lies

So, a default really wouldn’t be that bad? That’s what Republicans are going to start saying this week as the debt-ceiling debate ramps up. Michael Tomasky debunks the talking points in advance.

Attention will turn more sharply this week in the direction of the debt ceiling and the question of a possible default. We’re just 10 days away from D-Day, and since default is a much bigger deal than a shutdown, we’re going to have a week of cable debates about who’ll be to blame if the country defaults. It is with that in mind that offer you three arguments you’re sure to hear Republicans make. They’re all foolish or false or both, so clip this list and tape it to your refrigerator. The roof is finally starting to fall in on these serial liars, and I want you to be part of the growing army of Americans that knows a lie when it hears one.

Ted Cruz

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, left, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, speak to the media after the Senate voted to pass the continuing resolution on September 27, 2013. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call, via Getty)

1. A default wouldn’t really be that bad.

We haven’t heard this very much yet, but I expect it will start getting a stern workout this week. It was a heavy talking point back in 2011.

If President Obama owned the Washington Redskins, he'd think about changing the name. Considering the 'sizable group' that it offends, the real owner should too. By Michael Tomasky.

Bravo to Obama for his comments yesterday about the Washington football club:

President Obama says that if he owned the Washington Redskins, he would ‘think about changing’ the team name, wading into the controversy over a football nickname that many people deem offensive to Native Americans. Obama, in an interview with The Associated Press, said team names like the Redskins offend ‘a sizable group of people.’ He said that while fans get attached to the nicknames, nostalgia may not be a good enough reason to keep them in place. ‘I don't know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real legitimate concerns that people have about these things,’ he said in the interview, which was conducted Friday...

Good. It's more embarrassing by the week, that name, and the more I read comment threads from the ignorami who denounce political correctness and instruct the rest of us to just deal with it, constantly pointing to one poll that is now nearly a decade old, the more plainly humiliating and reactionary and deplorable the whole business becomes. And it seems that more and more people are thinking about it my way.

Washington Redskins

Ezra Shaw/Getty


Washington’s Other Car Crash

The president won’t bend on health care, but he has no leverage over the speaker, who has no control over the GOP’s hard right, who are now running the show. By Michael Tomasky.

The freakish shooting on Capitol Hill stopped time for a while yesterday as everyone’s attention was diverted from the metaphorical car crash we’re all living through to an actual one. But it didn’t stop the clock ticking, as the sun rose this morning over the fourth day of a shuttered government and 13 days away from default.


Win McNamee

John Boehner’s office yesterday leaked some news that at first blush seemed conciliatory, but at second and third blushes was not, and so the face-off continues, and two central facts are now clearer to me than they were before.

First, Barack Obama is not going to budge (nor should he). Second, Obama and his team have no real way to make Boehner do anything. All Obama has on his side are the facts; in Washington, usually an unfortunate situation in which to find oneself. Whether the facts will be enough to avert disaster will hinge largely on whether Boehner can bring himself to accept them.

Push, Meet Shove

It's All on Boehner

Always remember, this nonsense can end at any moment. John Boehner can call a vote on the Senate resolution. It would pass. As of last night, about 15 or so Republicans were on record publicly saying they'd vote for the Senate CR. Privately, it's got to be twice that. Combine that with about 200 Democrats, and there are your votes. Lickety split, the shutdown would end.

So Boehner is making a choice. Every hour this drags on, he is choosing to side with his radicals and against his normal conservatives (I won’t call them moderates; they’re plenty conservative, they’re just not crazy). Every hour, he and pretty much he alone is preventing those hundreds of thousands of people from earning the money with which they raise their kids, preventing the treatment of those children with pancreatic cancer that the wingers tried to lay on Harry Reid yesterday, preventing people from knowing the glories of Yosemite and Yellowstone and the Lincoln Memorial and all the rest. A majority in his House sits ready to cast the votes to reopen the government, and he won’t let it. Period.

Is there a delegation of normal conservatives going to him and pleading with him to do the right thing here? They can promise him that they’ll have his back in speakership fight. They can go to the mat for him with donors and insiders and pull every string they can to wire a speakership vote. It isn’t as if these people don’t have leverage if they’re willing to use it. They’re just not as inflamed as the nutters.

Is Boehner himself saying to any of these people: “Look, like you, I want to vote clean CR and be done with this. But I can’t call that vote unless you are going to be there for me. I need you to go on Fox, go on all the radio shows, and say I did the right thing. And I need you to go back to your districts and tell your voters that. If you’ll do that, I’ll make sure we can vote on the clean CR.” Is he? One somehow doubts it.

Shutdown Losers

What History Will Say

On October 1, 2013, Democrats opened up a program to bring health care to all, while Republicans peacocked around trying to stop history. It’s obvious which side will be judged more kindly years from now, says Michael Tomasky.

We sometimes don’t notice history as it’s unfolding right before us, so let’s stop and take note of what a historically momentous day Tuesday was. Twenty, 50 years from now, when historians or college professors are trying to describe to their readers and students what the difference was between the two political parties in our time, they will direct them to October 1, 2013. That one day says it all.

A US Park Police officer watches at left as a National Park Service employee posts a sign on a barricade closing access to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013

Carolyn Kaster/AP

The Democratic Party was opening up its historic program to bring health care to all citizens, and the Republican Party was closing down the federal government, a fanatical minority manipulating the rules of our democracy and holding a gun to the country’s head, all because it wants to deny all citizens health care and is furious that it failed three times in that effort.

Tuesday perfectly expressed what these two parties have come to be about. The Democrats have many flaws, and money has corrupted them at certain times on certain issues almost as much as it has corrupted Republicans. And yes, sometimes some Democrats behave divisively, too. But at least they have had good moments, even great ones. The passage of Social Security. Medicare and Medicaid. Civil rights (and please, you cynical Everett Dirksen-invokers, give it a rest and go away; you would have long since drummed Dirksen out of your party today). Women’s rights. And most recently gay rights, including same-sex marriage; history will recall Barack Obama with admiration as the first sitting president willing to voice his support for that.

GOP Disaster

Numbers That Speak for Themselves

New Quinnipiac poll out this morning. Bleak house, conservatives:

So it looks like maybe people actually get this. I mean, even Ron Fournier of National Journal, usually devoted to the pox-on-both-houses, why-can't-Obama-lead? narrative, writes today that this is basically the GOP's fault and Obama "can't capitulate to GOP demands to unwind the fairly legislated and litigated Affordable Care Act. To do so would be political malpractice and a poor precedent for future presidents." Not holding my breath for Mark Halperin yet, but this is progress.

And these are devastating numbers for the GOP. If their private polling is close to this, we'll see a deal soon, probably. Except that ... individual right-wing members polling their own right-wing districts will see that locally, their numbers are going up! And that is the problem in a nutshell right there.

About the Author

Author headshot

Michael Tomasky

The Daily Beast special correspondent Michael Tomasky is also editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

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