by Ralph Benko
The Chinese character, weiji, usually is translated “dangerous opportunity.” Actually it means “precarious pivot point.” That describes perfectly where Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx) stands… and has pushed the Republican Party. Ted Cruz has made himself the point man for the whole, melodramatic, government “shutdown.” It is part of his high stakes play for the presidency driven by, those who know him say, an admixture of ambition and idealism.
The “shutdown” enamored the angry populists in the Tea Party with Cruz as it was meant to do. Yet the round is not yet over. Neither the GOP, nor Cruz, are out of the woods yet. To pocket his winnings, Cruz needs to help extricate the GOP from peril (into which he helped placed it), neutralize, not heighten, the political negatives, play a major role in holding the House and installing a Republican majority in the Senate. Cruz, if he hopes to reunite America, first must reunite the party he helped divide.
It’s a hat-trick. If he pulls it off — by no means easy but not impossible — Cruz will have made himself a finalist, and perhaps front-runner, for the Republican presidential nomination. If he fails he is likely to become a political pariah.
Cruz is playing for the highest stakes in the world — the presidency. He has bet everything he has. To boot, he mortgaged and bet the future of the Republican Party. High stakes. No prisoners.
As this columnist wrote last August, the return of Congress would be not about governance but about politics. After the August recess something even more interesting occurred than my prediction of skirmishing around the 2014 Hill elections. Cruz turned this moment into the first major pre-primary battle of the 2016 presidential cycle.
Whether or not you, dear Reader, find him likable… Cruz is formidable. The next step in pulling off the hat-trick needed to be for Cruz to enable, without alienating too many of his enamored rank-and-file followers, John Boehner to reopen the government. This was tricky but there was a clear pathway to do so. In the event, Cruz safely muted his trumpet.
The GOP Civil War is over. John Boehner heroically kept his ranks together under the enfilade of the Tea Party Insurgents. The government reopened without the Regulars being punished for abandoning principle.
The suicidal “Charge of the Light Brigade” demanded by the Torch-and-Pitchfork wing of the Tea Party was abandoned. The key Insurgents, quietly, declared a Ceasefire — and on Boehner’s terms. The Insurgents have not changed their objective. Yet they, crucially, are reducing their punitive threats against the Regulars. Congress can reopen the government without provoking a wave of insidious primary challenges that could cost the Republicans their only beachhead against social democracy, the House majority.
Meanwhile, Cruz did this in an off-year. The GOP has time to repair the damage by November 2014. If that happens, and if Cruz makes himself instrumental in making that happen, he will be forgiven. That is step three of the hat-trick. If Cruz falters, however, in the next critical steps he will suffer the fate of all failed coup plotters.
Are Cruz’s recent tactics reprehensible? Or is this … presidential politics? Let us pause, momentarily, to recall the fury that Ronald Reagan incurred by, almost successfully, mounting a primary challenge to incumbent Republican president Gerald Ford. This primary challenge probably cost Ford the election and installed Jimmy Carter in the White House. Which, thereafter, led to a Reagan presidency. One takes to heart Finley Peter Dunne’s aphorism: “Politics ain’t beanbag.”
Shutting down (sort of) the government (but not Obamacare) has earned the GOP the lowest popularity rating of either political party in the history of Gallup polling. It ostensibly threatens, according to another poll, the Republican’s House majority. The latter poll was cooked up by MoveOn … but Gallup never lies.
Yet, hey, this is politics. The conversation changes faster than the weather. The GOP can repair the damage to its prestige and resurge. At least … that’s the calculus that Cruz appears to have made. His future, and quite possibly the future of his party and the Republic, depends on the accuracy of this highly leveraged calculus.
Cruz, point man in this high stakes game, turned himself from a factional into a national figure. His name recognition is way up. So, dramatically, are his negatives).
His base of loyalists and contributors has, almost certainly, surged. However to become his party’s presidential nominee, with any hope of election, he must not let himself turn politically radioactive within the party or among the broad electorate. He has pushed it right to the edge.
According to Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, the worthy successor to Hunter Thompson:
“So one would think he’s playing some kind of game, and that his real exit strategy is to be suddenly and ruthlessly defeated at the last minute by other mainstream Republican Quislings. Such a move would be at least half-smart. It would make him a supreme martyr within the party, and formalize his status as the de facto leader of this new Tea Party/Third Party movement that is devouring the old GOP ….”
Taibbi, vision obscured by his progressive blinkers, is only half-right. This was not a half-smart move by Cruz. It was smart, if dangerous, presidential politics. But branding the Regulars as Quislings is antithetical to pulling off the hat-trick. Cruz carefully has not done that. If he survives the endgame of this round, he next needs to take steps to reunite the party.
Cruz walked his House Republican colleagues into the Valley of the Shadow of Death, to the tut-tutting of many (including this columnist). Now it is clear that he was not engaging in a fool’s errand, “defunding” Obamacare. He was running for president.
Cruz is no Walter White nebbish descending to nihilism to “feel alive.” He was courting, perhaps capturing, a vital segment of the GOP’s primary voter base. But he needs much more. Having gained rock star status among the Tea Party, Cruz, now, if he has the skill and luck to pull it off without alienating his new fans, can begin a rapprochement with the Regulars.
He has a path to this by aligning with other conservative and Insurgent thought leaders … such as the Kochs. The Kochs passionately oppose Obamacare … out of a principled, and well-founded, fear that it will degrade, and make less available and less affordable, medical care. But the Kochs and, presumably, the groups to whom they and their allies have been so generous, do not support a politically suicidal “Close the Government” strategy.
Cruz also may be able to align tactically with Heritage Action, the prime architect of the “Close the Government” campaign. Heritage Action protested the upcoming government “reopening” (and the raising of the debt ceiling). But Heritage Action’s CEO, Mike Needham, stated that Representatives who follow Boehner’s temporary debt-ceiling increase will be handed a bye, not a failing report card grade… and potential primary opponent. This may hint at more.
For Heritage Action to become too much of an outlier against the developing sentiment in the Insurgency would be dangerous to, among others, Jim DeMint, head of Heritage Action’s sister organization. Heritage Action justifiably reveres DeMint. It is unlikely to throw him under the bus. A principled but nuanced position by Heritage Action, too, would give Cruz an utterly clear path to begin reuniting the GOP along across-the-board conservative lines. To do that, also, would be useful exercise for him … toward reuniting an increasingly conservative America.
Cruz, yes, could align himself with the increasingly tiny (albeit ardent) populist faction whose motto seems to be not “Give me Liberty or give me Death” but, simply, “Give me Death.” Cruz then would become the right’s Ralph Nader, merely a spoiler.
Spoiler is not Cruz’s game. Having 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. on his business cards is his goal. Cruz surely knows that to gain this prize he needs to unite, not divide, the Insurgents and Regulars. If that indeed is his objective it’s time, this hand, for him to collect his winnings and allow the reopening with only a muted protest.
Republished with permission from Forbes.com