The rowdy, stubborn species of conservatives who forced the 16-day shutdown of government and brought the nation to the brink of default can only see victory in their loss in the debt-ceiling battle.
They’ve got a new rallying cry, and a new moniker for their archenemy of establishment politicians and status quo government: the “Surrender Caucus.”
And anyone who dares think the latest crisis averted will end the cycle of budget battles, debt default threats and assaults on Obamacare should think again.
This renegade band of unconventional politicians already lives for the next fight — which has been kicked beyond the holidays to early 2014. And none of Washington’s traditional levers of influence seem able to divert them from the goal of fighting again.
The threat of being stripped of committee assignments, losing party support for re-election or being blamed in the polls for the shutdown has little effect on the likes of Republican Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul or Mike Lee and their allies in the House.
“We are getting zero fiscal discipline,” a frustrated Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, explaining why he voted against the budget deal despite hailing from a state that voted for President Obama during the last two elections.
There’s also a misunderstanding in the mainstream media about really motivated these boat-rockers: It wasn’t about actually stopping Democrats from taking the Affordable Care Act across the goal line, nor was it about raising the debt ceiling before Mr. Obama and the Democrats offered any significant spending cuts.
Rather, it was about showing that there were Republicans in Congress who understood that standing and fighting was itself the goal — the endgame that disparaging critics on the left, right and center said was glaringly absent from Mr. Cruz’s crusade.
“He’s done a good job drawing attention to Obamacare and that Obamacare is something that is going to be damaging to people,” Mr. Paul said of Mr. Cruz in a television interview on Sunday. “And, for that, I think he’s done a great service in bringing attention to, I think, something that’s really going to be bad for a lot of Americans.”
The goal-line stand itself would, in the minds of many conservatives, show dispirited GOP rank-and-filers that their party still had hopes and aspirations for reclaiming a relevance lost since the Reagan era.
“Our leaders in Congress have been bent and broken so many times by the Democrats and President Obama that this became a must-do line in the sand for them,” explained Bruce Ash of Arizona, chairman of the Republican National Committee’s Standing Rules Committee and of its Conservative Caucus. “The GOP leadership had its back up against the wall — a bad place to be.”
“It was entirely proper to condition an increase in the debt limit on some measures of fiscal restraint,” said Chicago attorney and Reagan administration official Joe Morris. “Mr. Obama’s demand that Congress raise the debt limit unconditionally and automatically was to treat the debt limit as a meaningless abstraction and to treat Congress as robots, which conservatives in Congress could not let stand.”
Liberal as well as most center-right commentators labeled the Cruz crusaders as hopelessly naive and destructive of their own party. But conservatives beyond the Beltway (and a few inside) saw the Cruz obstinacy as a necessary public rejection of bipartisanship as practiced since the days of President George H.W. Bush’s 1990 budget compromise with the congressional Democratic leaders, when he broke his no-new-taxes pledge and accepted the Democrats’ demand to cut spending by $2 for every $1 in tax increases. The GOP kept their part of the bargain; the Democrats didn’t, but they still got $137 billion in tax increases from 1991 through 1995 that they had originally wanted.