By A.B. Stoddard - 07/31/13 10:25 PM EDT
Buy a ticket and have a seat — the curtain is up on the GOP’s implosion as high-profile Republicans considered future leaders and presidential contenders insult and accuse each other, hurling enough cable news kindling around to not only break through the story of Anthony Weiner’s self-immolation but to make President Obama look like the grown-up heading into the budget battle this fall. This was no easy feat.
Forget conservative revolts on the farm bill or immigration reform; after a season of legislative avoidance, Congress will return in September to face deadlines for funding the government and raising the debt ceiling on which GOP division is nearly as stark as the divide between the two parties. What’s more, recent disagreements on national security policy have now split Republicans into two camps of hawks and doves.
It was Christie who first took a swipe at freshman Sens. Paul and Cruz several days ago to separate himself from “the strain of libertarianism” in foreign policy he believes is “dangerous.” Paul hit back and accused Christie of a “gimme, gimme, gimme” posture on spending that prompted the governor to note that Kentucky receives $1.50 for every dollar it receives from the federal government compared to the 60 cents New Jersey receives. Paul then called Christie “the King of Bacon” and warned “it’s not helping the party for him to pick a war with me.”
Meanwhile, Congress departs days from now for a five-week recess, during which time they are expected to somehow find consensus on how to proceed with the coming spending battle this fall. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is circulating a petition, which notables like Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) signed on to, declaring that no spending bill should be approved to fund the government if it includes spending for ObamaCare. Republicans worried about this strategy — for which the party will likely be blamed in a shutdown after the president vetoes the bill to defund his signature accomplishment — are calling it everything from “silly” to “political suicide.” They include Sens. Roy Blunt (Mo.), McCain, Richard Burr (N.C.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.), who are now, according to Cruz’s staff, members of the “surrender caucus.” Cruz himself has dismissed as “cocktail chatter” this notion that a government shutdown will come back to haunt Republicans, and is seeking to counter what he called “a powerful, defeatist approach among Republicans in Washington.”
Some 60 House Republicans have signed a similar measure and are pressing House leadership — which had other ideas in mind — to climb aboard. These lawmakers are of course being goaded by Cruz, who is mocking their “empty, symbolic” votes to repeal ObamaCare.
While Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) conspicuously dodges any commitment to the plan, it’s not so easy for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The Senate minority leader now faces a conservative challenger in his GOP primary and is under pressure to sign on to the Cruz Crusade because his opponent, Matt Bevin, already has. In order to win in 2014, McConnell might not be able to govern. But in order to win the White House in 2016, at least one Republican will most certainly have to be willing to govern instead of putting on skits. Being a grown-up will help, too.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.