By Markos Moulitsas - 09/24/13 10:11 PM EDT
While the prospect of a government shutdown and national default tempers the mood, it’s hard not to laugh at the train wreck that is the GOP’s congressional delegation.
On one side of Capitol Hill we have Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), perhaps the weakest Speaker ever. Not only has he ceded control of his chamber to a minority Tea Party caucus, but that caucus is being puppeteered by one senator, and a freshman backbencher at that — Texas Republican Ted Cruz.
The American public certainly isn’t interested; just 19 percent of respondents support shutting down the government and defaulting on our national debt in order to force defunding, according to a CNBC poll released Monday. Yet Boehner was forced by Cruz into adding the unpopular defunding provision in the recently passed House budget.
Then we have Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is too electorally endangered to do much of anything, ceding his caucus leadership to the boisterous Cruz. McConnell’s reelection prospects might already be dim, but they would cease to exist if he were to do anything to counterbalance the lunacy from his Tea Party caucus. He’s been rendered mute in this debate, afraid to actually do his job.
It’s this leadership void that Cruz has filled, and it’s clear that he fancies himself in charge. This weekend he was demanding that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) change regular Senate procedures to make it easier to vote for defunding. And as if trying to run the Senate isn’t enough, he’s continuing to bark orders at the House after he forced them to pass his defunding scheme, demanding that it “hold its ground and start passing smaller resolutions one department at a time.”
Key Republicans are still grousing about that House “victory,” responding with open resentment and recriminations. “Cruz keeps raising conservatives’ hopes, and then, when we give him what he wants, he doesn’t have a plan to follow through,” one congressional aide complained to the conservative National Review. “He’s an amateur.”
GOP Rep. Peter King of New York accused Cruz of perpetrating a “fraud against the American people” by convincing them ObamaCare could be defunded. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) played the elitism card against Cruz, tweeting, “I didn’t go to Harvard or Princeton, but I can count — the defunding box canyon is a tactic that will fail and weaken our position.” Even staunch ally Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has taken a low profile in this battle, saying that “it’s not a good idea to shut down the government.”
Cruz is equally contemptuous of his critics — and, in fact, his party — saying back in May, “Let me be clear, I don’t trust the Republicans.” He followed that up last week by saying how “embarrassed” he was to have voted GOP in 2008. All this from a guy who supposedly is a co-chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
With recriminations flowing both ways, Cruz is alone and isolated in the Capitol, with only his faithful puppy dog Sen. Mike Lee of Utah (R) to keep him company. But with millions of rank-and-file conservatives and their media rallying to his anti-GOP cause, he has every reason to stay emboldened and on course, wreaking havoc within his own party as he positions himself for that inevitable 2016 presidential run.
Moulitsas is the founder and publisher of Daily Kos.