How Ted Cruz May Save The Republican Party

Ezra Klein wrote a piece the other day titled, “If Ted Cruz didn’t exist, Democrats would have to invent  him.” The great Ezra ended with this:

Over the last 24 hours I’ve seen some Republicans complaining that President Obama and the Democrats are trying to break them. Their anger is misplaced. They should be angry at Ted Cruz for putting Republicans in a position to be broken.

I am sure there are many Republicans who are angry at Ted Cruz. But one of them isn’t Mitch McConnell. In fact, if Ted Cruz didn’t exist, Mitch McConnell would have to invent him. Why? Because Cruz has done what I didn’t think it was possible to do: make McConnell look good in comparison.

Mitch McConnell is as shrewd as he is slimy. And anyone, even a Ted Cruz, who can make the greasy craftiness of the Republican Senate Minority Leader look like adult reasonableness is now an asset to a Republican Party that is in desperate need of a public relations makeover. And the extreme behavior of Ted Cruz, Jim DeMint, and that strange gaggle of goofy zealots in the House of Representatives have allowed the establishment extremists, people like McConnell and Orrin Hatch and others, to come off sounding like voices of reason.

This development, my friends, should trouble Democrats.

McConnell, who has been a part of the Republican wrecking crew, has now assured the country there will be no more government shutdowns. Ahh. Ain’t that nice? Hatch, who is about as conservative a man as one would ever want to meet, called out DeMint’s groupthink tank, the Heritage Foundation. How great was that? Other Republicans, right-wingers all, have denounced the tactics of torpedo-toting teapartiers and are getting credit for doing so from the Beltway press corps.

One might be tempted to think that such behavior is a good thing, particularly a good thing for the country. But in this case it’s not, unless we all want to live in a society governed by ultra-conservative, if not ultra-nutty, policymakers. The reason that what we see happening on the right may spell trouble for Democrats and ultimately for the country is pretty simple. It’s all tied to the concept of triangulation. Let me borrow an image from Wikipedia’s entry on it:

What we will soon see, as 2014 gets here or before, are Republicans like McConnell (who is up for reelection next year and who is hoping to become Majority Leader if his party can win six extra Senate seats) trying to put themselves firmly, if falsely, on that “middle ground.” They will first confess that shutting down the government to defund ObamaCare was extreme behavior. Then they will concede that threatening the full faith and credit of the country was also out of line. They will then pivot to and run on two issues: anxiety over ObamaCare and anxiety over the national debt. They will say that there has been extreme behavior on both sides, but now the real threat to the country is with Democrats, who want to impose on the public a monster bureaucracy—an imposition that is now off to a horrendous start—and who want to raise more taxes and spend more money despite the $17 trillion debt we face.

While all this triangulating is going on next year, the anti-establishment extremists like Ted Cruz and the reactionary, recalcitrant radicals in the House will continue to do what it is they do. But increasingly more “adult” Republicans will speak out against them, posing as moderates who just want to tame the bureaucracy and get a handle on our debt. In reality, though, they share the goals, including many of the same social issue goals, of the anti-establishment radicals. They differ mainly in the strategy and tactics necessary to achieve them. And as time passes and the campaigns begin, money from business interests will flow into the coffers of non-Tea Party Republicans, money that once poured into the campaigns of those anti-establishment right-wingers who have caused much of the dysfunction we see today.

Now, I’m not suggesting that all this will be easy for Republicans to accomplish, particularly because Democrats have a lot of ammunition with which to fight back, mainly the ability to tie McConnell and other Republicans to Tea Party radicalism. But the triangulation strategy represents the best way Republicans have for winning the Senate and for keeping the House in Republican hands, especially if the press continues to present McConnell and other establishment extremists as the adults in the room.

As for 2016, such triangulation is how Chris Christie will, I predict, eventually win the Republican nomination for president. (He has already begun to use a version of the strategy and right-wing donors are anxious to dump truckloads of cash on him.)  Some people believe that the governor of New Jersey, who dared put his arm around Hussein Obama during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, is too disliked by primary-dominating conservatives to get the nomination. But how soon we forget that John McCain and Mitt Romney were also hated by those same conservatives. All it takes to get these people on board, albeit reluctantly, is the idea that Republicans can actually win a national election and achieve the power necessary to undo the damage that the Kenyan socialist has done to the country. It will also become obvious that most of the money men on the right, unfettered by campaign finance laws, are betting on Christie.

And should Chris Christie win not only the GOP primary but the national election, and should Republicans also win control of both houses of Congress, look out. A President Christie would be, in terms of the things Democrats hold dear, a very radical president indeed. Whether it is cutting rich people’s taxes, cutting government services and social programs, deregulating the economy, decimating unions, rolling back reproductive and gay rights, or any number of things on the reactionaries’ wish list, Christie and a Christie-friendly Congress could change the country in ways Ted Cruz only dreams of.

And, alas, all of it could happen thanks to him.



  1. Troy

     /  October 18, 2013

    I agree with this assessment . This is exactly how this will play out. Very astute my brotha! The GOP is very good at playin the ole “Kansas City” shuffle.


  2. King Beauregard

     /  October 18, 2013

    McConnell’s still going to have to survive primaries.


    • Yeah, he will. But that guy has more money than God, when it comes to his campaign chest. Despite his relative unpopularity in Kentucky, I expect him to survive the primary by running against Bevin as irresponsible (he’s already been attacking “Bailout Bevin” for not being a “Kentucky conservative.”) and unwilling and unable to get anything done that conservatives want done. He will affirm the goal and question the means to achieve it. I think that message will sell well by the time next year rolls around.

      He may, though, have some trouble in the general election, where his margin of victory has always been fairly small compared to other GOP leaders. Alison Lundergan Grimes is raising a lot of dough and is doing okay in the statewide polls, and hopefully a good experience with ObamaCare will help mitigate the considerable wave of Obama-hate in Kentucky.



  3. Duane,

    Of course the elephant in the room here is religion, specifically Christianity, and more specifically the evangelical/fundamentalist Christians. It is this seriously flawed and twisted belief system that drives zealots like Cruz, Palin, Rand Paul, Rubio, Ryan, and their ilk. They are mostly young-earthers, and evolution (read science) deniers. They take the bible literally, especially the parts they cherry pick for their own purposes. And they are the dominant force in the Tea Party.

    There is a great article on Patheos by Frank Schaeffer that speaks to this point. ( His conclusion is worth repeating:

    “Message to the World: America is a religiously deluded nation. That is why we can’t be trusted.

    “We have been following religious leaders that broke our brains. Their message is: God loves you so he sent his son to die for you and if you don’t believe in that he’ll send you to a real and literal hell to burn forever. Is it any wonder that brains soaked with this somewhat unlikely and vengeful delusion had no trouble buying into the Tea Party/Koch myths? Is it any wonder that these broken brains could be co-opted by the libertarian loons who think Ayn Rand had a point? Hey, if you’ll believe in a literal Bible you’ll believe in anything.

    “There’s a straight line from respect for Billy Graham and his retributive theology, that presents “love” and “salvation” as God’s threat of hell, to the Tea Party and the Koch brothers.

    “Crazy religion breaks brains.

    “Broken brains break countries.

    “The shutdown is a slow motion religious extremist attack on America being carried out by those living in the netherworld of apocalyptic fantasy. The evangelical establishment teaches a literal return of Christ to judge — and kill – the “unbelievers.” So why not kill the world economy too? That’s no big deal compared to what evangelicals already accept as “real.” Anyway, it doesn’t matter, Jesus is on the way… So actually nothing really matters…

    “The result of unhinging minds by snapping them with delusional religious fiction is clear in today’s shutdown headlines. Who the bad guys are is pretty clear too.”




    • Herb,

      You co-opted my use of Frank Schaeffer (who once wrote me a nice note after I posted a favorable review of his first book) for a future piece on LGBT rights I was writing. I really like Schaeffer, as we have had similar theological retreats. There is no one who can understand the fundamentalist-evangelical mind like a former fundamentalist-evangelical. It’s just hard, sometimes, to get people not that familiar with these folks to understand how misguided or delusional they are, when it comes to things like science, especially the kind of science that increasingly is demonstrating that homosexuality is not a conscious choice that people make, like screwing their neighbor’s wife (heck, we may find out that’s not a conscious choice either! Yippee!)

      In any case, I love those quotes from Schaeffer. How appropriate they are for these crazy times.



  4. Read “The Handmaid’s Tale” to understand how this plays out for you and me on a daily basis. The book depicts a state of government that is to be avoided with every means at our disposal.


    • A great suggestion. The book also (apparently, I confess I haven’t read it) depicts a “state of mind” as well as a “state of government.” That state of mind is on a continuum with, say, the mind of a Rick Santorum. Scary stuff. Thanks.


  5. Is there a chance that Mr. Mitch’s role in this might get him defeated by a more stalwart tea party candidate in his primary?


    • I don’t think so, Bruce. He has gobs of money and he has some big-time right-wing endorsements, including Rand Paul. I think his biggest fear is the general election. Right now, if the election were held today, I think he’d lose.


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