- - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Ted Cruz is a brave conservative who, unlike some of his fellows, does not quail at the sound of the guns. He sets an example others could emulate. His tenacity, both at the grass roots where he has many friends and in Washington where he seems to have few, gives the conservative coalition a much-needed shot of testosterone in its flabby arm. His stand-up attitude is particularly valuable as Democrats try to figure out who they are and who they want to be in the wake of the thumping they took in November.

But sometimes an eager warrior fires before he sees “the whites of their eyes” and gives his opponents unexpected opportunities to answer with damaging fire. By extending the fight over the spending legislation, or what the masters of Washington argle-bargle call “the CR-Omnibus,” to make a point on immigration, Mr. Cruz gave Harry Reid a last chance to confirm dozens of President Obama’s appointees just when the 113th Congress was about to be shipped off to the graveyard, the Senate included. Mr. Cruz was eager to fight without enough supporting troops. He couldn’t wait for the cavalry to arrive with guns blazing in January.

He didn’t like the appropriations package the Senate finally approved, and neither did we. But he was not about to alter it with delay on Harry Reid’s terms. In its death throes, the Senate is still Mr. Reid‘s, and the Democratic majority leader cleverly demonstrated he knew how to exploit opportunity.

Like his party colleagues, Mr. Cruz wanted more than he got, but the legislation was a compromise that neither they nor the Democrats wanted. That’s the nature of compromise. The Republican leaders agreed to it, rightly calculating that they wouldn’t get a chance to reform Washington until they take control of the Senate. We’ll see then of what stuff they’re made.

For Mr. Cruz, it was an opportunity to play to the gallery of the frequently disappointed and the impatient, but not to deal from strength on immigration and other issues. He couldn’t resist the temptation to delay the vote on “CR-Omnibus” and pick that fight now. The delay gave Harry Reid the opening that kept the Senate in town and in session. He used the unexpected time to push to the floor a number of nominees whose confirmation Republicans were blocking by running out the clock. These nominations would have died, and the Democrats in the Senate wasted no opportunity to confirm, for example, Dr. Vivek Murthy as the U.S. surgeon general.

That post has been vacant for 18 months. The Murthy nomination had stalled in part because it was opposed by, among others, the National Rifle Association, which took issue along with senators in both parties with the doctor’s support for banning the sale of certain weapons and ammunition, imposing longer waiting periods, and the proposition that gun violence is a national “health” problem, not one of for law enforcement.

If Mr. Cruz had held his fire, the Murthy nomination and others like it would have died a fortunate death. Instead, the rescued nominees will make policy for years to come. The senator should have called on the horse sense of the old Texas poker players, as practiced in the heat and smoke of many a frontier saloon. They knew “when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.” Knowing when to fight and when to deal is the hallmark of a smart poker player, and a leader with the skill that the senator — brave, eager and well-motivated though he is — has yet to master.


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