Sunday, on CBS’ Face the Nation, the junior senator from the State of Oblivion said—and I’m not making this up—“I didn’t threaten to shut down the government the last time. I don’t think we should ever shut down the government. I repeatedly voted… to fund the federal government.”
What? More than any other actor in last year’s budget debacle, Ted Cruz is responsible. Just a cursory glance at the record puts the lie to his blatant blame-shifting. Beginning with his “not-really-a-filibuster” publicity stunt, Cruz whipped up the national Tea Party base, emboldened House GOP radicals, and cowed the Republican leadership. After his Green Eggs and Ham soliloquy, sanity left the building and a shutdown was almost inevitable.
Even in the face of crushing poll numbers and Wall Street panic, his constant rants bolstered the Tea Party radicals’ resolve to force a budget Armageddon. In the midst of the maelstrom, he congratulated Tea Party wing nuts for their obstructionism, telling the Values Voters Summit, “It is because of you that the House of Representatives has been standing strong.”
Not content to simply sabotage sanity in the Senate, Cruz convened a semi-secret conclave of Tea Party House members to craft a counter-attack on to any potential Senate compromise. Imagine that—a junior senator directing strategy for the back-bench insurgents in the House—a strategy every Republican leader now admits was a political and economic disaster.
Does Ted Cruz really think he can get away with re-writing history? Despite having long ago plighted his troth to the lunatic right, he is certainly trying. But why?
Because, above all things he is the consummate ambitious opportunist. With Chris Christie’s 2016 juggernaut at least temporarily in the ditch, Cruz may see an opening. If he can re-invent himself as a moderate-sounding statesman who still owns the hearts of the Tea Party loyalists, he may think he has a winning coalition in the 2016 GOP presidential nominating sweepstakes.
Could this work? He knows he’s in a tough spot as a “Tea Party darling.” The country has soured on obstructionist politicians and the Tea Party in particular. Poll after poll reveals an angry American electorate, disgusted with the “just say no” agenda. Cruz is bound to catch a lot of this hell, personally.
Worse news for Cruz, the old guard is striking back. Establishment Republicans, congressional leaders, corporate CEO’s, Wall Street poobahs, the Chamber of Commerce and the whole panoply of GOP establishment business organizations have begun to counterattack.
While it remains to be seen whether the old guard can overcome the new Koch-backed insurgency, and their byzantine labyrinth of interlocking dark-money groups, Ted Cruz isn’t taking any chances. With his “Who me?” revisionism, Cruz is looking to position himself as the standard-bearer of both camps. If he can don the toga praetexta of a statesman, Cruz may think he’s found the key to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
This is a breathtakingly bold gambit. Yet Cruz seems to believe he has the chops to pull it off.
Of course, while tries to play against type, he still can’t resist the old urge to kick over the furniture. When asked by Bob Schieffer in that same interview, “Will you agree to raise the debt ceiling, or will you demand something in return?” Cruz replied, “Look, of course, we should do something. We shouldn’t just write a blank check.”
Those are code words for “I’m going to demagogue, obfuscate, obstruct and bloviate about big government until the cows come home, or at least as long as I can get lots of press doing it.”
He can’t help himself.