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.