The Corner

On Con Jobs and Fighting

Since I set off quite a brouhaha by using the phrase “con job” on Special Report last Friday night, I’d like to throw a few thoughts into the ring now that I’ve had all weekend to think about it (and argue about it on Twitter and in e-mail). First of all, friends (and a few foes) have convinced me I should have found a better term. Con job too strongly implies accusations of bad or even sinister motives. I don’t think that’s true of Lee and Cruz and I know it’s not of their supporters. So for that I apologize.

That said, and with all due respect to Ted Cruz, I find it strange that so many of his biggest supporters won’t even allow for the possibility that he may have political interests here that do not begin and end with defunding Obamacare and which may be skewing his judgment. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure that Ted Cruz wants to see Obamacare go (I am also sure that’s true of a great many of the people he’s unfairly labeled members of “the surrender caucus” simply because they question the soundness of his strategy). But Ted Cruz also wants to run for president some day — perhaps some day very soon. He wants to cultivate a national political profile and maybe a national database of donors who’ve signed the petition he plugs incessantly. Maybe those factors play into why he insists that everyone must rally to him and his leadership?

Now I’m no babe in the woods. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of that. Indeed, to a certain extent it speaks very well of him. The GOP needs more risk-takers and political entrepreneurs willing to challenge Beltway norms. Whatever disagreements I have with Cruz and Rand Paul, I admire their political creativity and boldness. Cruz has been very successful at changing the debate and galvanizing many on the right (while alienating some others).

But here’s where I was coming from when I mistakenly called this a con. While there’s nothing wrong or even unusual with Cruz seizing an issue – a very worthy issue! — and using it as a vehicle for his political ambitions, doing so doesn’t make his legislative strategy any more compelling, particularly when it appears he didn’t really have one. The plan all along seems to have been “if we build a movement, the votes will come.” And if the votes don’t come, well we will have this very handy movement as a consolation prize. It’s easier to ask everybody to mount up for battle when you’ll end up a winner no matter what.

More to the point, the problem with the way Cruz and Lee have talked about their effort is that they made it sound like there was a way to translate the movement into actual legislative victories in the Senate. But on Wednesday, when the House actually delivered, Cruz conceded that Reid “has the votes” and seemed to punt things back to the House. And yet in July, Cruz said that Obamacare can be stopped without “a single Democratic vote” in the Senate. Mike Lee has said if Republicans “simply refuse to fund” Obamacare we can get rid of it. That “simply” leaves out a whole lot of complicated things.

One thing it leaves out: Even if Cruz and Lee could convince Harry Reid to change the rules and require a 60-vote threshold on stripping Obamacare (because Harry Reid is such a reasonable guy), the change would also require unanimous consent from all 100 senators. Who thinks that could happen? Anybody? 

Even if, somehow, Reid went along — maybe we put the head of his favorite horse in his bed? We’re supposed to believe that Chuck Schumer, Al Franken, and Barbara Boxer are all going to go along too? Why would they do that when they think a government shutdown would be good for the Democrats? Where’s the leverage? How many ponies do you want to decapitate?

The argument I hear most from people boils down to a bunch of epigrams about the importance of fighting. If conservatives don’t fight on Obamacare where will they fight? If you never fight you’ll never win. Etc. etc.  But conservatives have been fighting Obamacare for years. And while it’s true that if you never fight you’ll never win, it’s also true that charging into battle when defeat is all but assured is not all that advisable either. Picking your battles isn’t “surrender.” It’s wisdom. I want to get rid of Obamacare as much as anyone. But I believe the only way to do that at this point is to win back the Senate in 2014 and probably the White House in 2016. Even so, I would wholeheartedly support the Defund movement if I didn’t think a government shutdown would hurt those chances.

Now I know there are all sorts of elaborate and heartfelt theories about why such skepticism is wrong. Fine. But why such skepticism should elicit cries of cowardice, RINOism (I agree entirely with Andy about the stupidity of that term) and betrayal is beyond me. Disagreements over tactics shouldn’t amount to heresy. We’re not Bolsheviks.



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