Now that the shutdown has been shut down, the media are busy telling us that Republicans may be eligible for endangered-species status for daring to stand up to President Obama’s desire to begin implementation of a health care scheme that is not even close to being ready for prime time.
There is no question that in the short term, at least, the administration not only managed to pin blame for the shutdown on the GOP. The polls show it, as does turmoil within the Republican caucuses in both the House and Senate. Those who opposed the willingness of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and others to accept a government shutdown and, thus, perhaps force the Obama administration to accept the defunding or delay of Obamacare, are pointing at Mr. Cruz and his Tea Party allies, blaming them and righteously saying “we told ‘em so.”
Mr. Cruz and his allies, on the other hand, are claiming they lost not because their opponents control both the White House and the Senate, but because too many Republicans flinched, deserted them in the midst of battle and surrendered their principles in making a deal to reopen the government.
It’s time for both sides to stop the finger-pointing and grow up.
Conservatives have to realize that neither Mr. Cruz nor Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are their enemies. Mr. Cruz, who has all the energy and commitment of a soldier new to the battle, fought valiantly, but was never going to win, precisely because the Democrats do control both the White House and Senate. For him to assume they would surrender because he wanted them to was a mistake of the head, though not of the heart.
What he did manage to do was invigorate his party’s base and set the table for 2014. The off-year elections will be about many things, but mainly about Obamacare. Voters around the country may not have liked the shutdown and may wish Congress and the president could get along, but most of them don’t like the president’s “signature” health care law and saw Republicans arguing about how best to kill it while Democrats rallied to its support.
Moreover, many analysts, such as Nate Silver, formerly of The New York Times and now with ESPN, doubt very much if current polls showing that the shutdown hurt Republicans will mean anything by November 2014, when real issues such as taxes, spending, jobs and, yes, Obamacare will drive voters to the polls.
So Mr. Cruz and his allies may ultimately have helped the Republican cause, even though they didn’t and couldn’t have actually achieved their substantive objectives, given who really controls Washington these days.
His detractors, including Mr. McConnell, need to accept this reality and move on.
Those objectives can only be won by electing more Republicans in 2014; by holding the House and taking control of the Senate. That’s something that Mr. McConnell understands better than anyone else. In the meantime, he’s done a masterful job of getting his troops what he can while looking forward to the day when reinforcements will arrive to help.
He’s not perfect, but his leadership got us the Budget Control Act and, more importantly, the sequestration that has actually given the country two years of reduced discretionary spending. Those are accomplishments that any conservative can cheer.
Mr. McConnell may be many things, but he’s no RINO (Republican in Name Only). He may not possess the fiery oratorical talent that brings a crowd to its feet, but there’s a reason Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dislikes dealing with him. He’s tough, he’s a master of the Senate’s arcane rules, knows how to count votes and gets more than one might expect, given the hand he’s been dealt.
The Madison Project, a group near and dear to Mr. Cruz, has vowed that Mr. McConnell must be defeated for “sabotaging” the drive to defund Obamacare and “unilaterally” surrendering on every front in the negotiations to end the shutdown.These are guys who hanker for leaders who can make their dreams a reality without the votes or power to do so.
Mr. McConnell may or may not have gotten all he could this time around, but no one could have done much better, given the hand the Republicans held going in.
Taking Mr. McConnell out in a bloody primary as many of the Texas senator’s allies would like to do would be a mistake of the highest order. If Republicans actually want to end Obamacare and change the course on which the president’s party has embarked, they need to unite regardless of tactical differences, pretend they like each other and level their rhetorical guns not at each other, but at the president and his ideologically driven allies.
David A. Keene is opinion editor of The Washington Times.