In New Orleans to speak at the RedState Gathering Friday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) says it’s going to take regular Americans rather than the Beltway elite to beat back Obamacare through the use of a continuing resolution which would exclude the health care restructuring plan from the federal budget.
“If the path is convincing Washington to defund Obamacare,” says Cruz, “there is no way to get it done.”
Cruz says there are two circumstances weighing in favor of a successful effort. First, that “the wheels are coming off” the president’s plan; Cruz notes that there is a growing bipartisan consensus that Obamacare isn’t going to work and cites Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) calling it a “train wreck” and the National Treasury Employees’ Union begging to be let out of its implementation as example of that concensus.
Second, he says, is the rise of the grassroots activist as a force in American politics.
“There is a tectonic shift happening,” Cruz says, noting that it was grassroots support from conservative activists in Texas which propelled him from two percent in initial polls in last year’s GOP Senate primary in Texas into first a runoff with establishment favorite Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and then to a 14-point primary win on the way to an easy general election victory. “The way Washington likes to make decisions is behind closed doors, with the elites deciding what’s good for everybody
“But we’ve seen one way to defeat that is a tsunami of activity. Get overwhelming numbers of people involved, make the phones ring in Congressional offices and the Washington way collapses.”
Cruz says it isn’t easy, but when constituents speak in large numbers to Senators and Congressmen, they do listen.
And because he’s seen the power of the grassroots work, Cruz can confidently take a meat axe to Washington conventional wisdom which says that if there is to be a shutdown it would be a disaster for the GOP.
For example, the conventional wisdom is that the 1995 shutdown was a disaster for the party. Not so, says Cruz.
“The 1995 shutdown ultimately produced several years of balanced budgets and some of the most fiscally sound policies Washington has had in modern history,” he pointed out. “Sure, there was political pain involved, and that’s what the political class in Washington remembers. But the policy results were largely in our favor.”
Besides, Cruz says, in the 1996 elections the GOP held a House majority with a loss of only nine seats in a bad presidential cycle, and the GOP actually gained two seats in the Senate.
Bob Dole’s loss in the presidential race is foremost in public memory of that cycle, but Cruz says the 1995 shutdown wasn’t the cause of that. After all, he says, “Dole was one of the leading critics of the shutdown.”
The problem is that Dole’s view managed to survive as the Beltway logic for Republicans despite that defeat. And it seems even worse now with the current party leadership – not the least of which because the current crowd on the other side of the aisle doesn’t fear the elephant.
“Obama thinks he can run right over the GOP leadership,” Cruz says.
So does the party need a remedial course in political leverage?
“I liken our negotiating strategy to a poker player,” he says, “who sits down at the table, makes a big bet and says ‘If you raise me I’ll fold.'”
Bad negotiation strategy goes back a long while. Even Ronald Reagan was guilty of letting Democrats chisel him – the 1986 immigration amnesty was an example. So was the 1987 budget battle which led to tax increases without the promised budget cuts.
But Cruz offers another example – namely, that when George W. Bush was inaugurated, he had 11 judicial nominations to make. Nine of Bush’s choices to fill those judgeships, Cruz notes, were down the line conservatives. But the other two were Democrats who were holdovers from the Clinton era that Republicans had blocked in the senate. Bush offered them up in a show of comity and cooperation, and the Democrats had no problem with those – but then they promptly fought the other nine. And when called on their double-cross, the argument was that the two Democrats “weren’t controversial.”
The Senator explains that there was a far easier way to operate – namely, to give the Democrats in the Senate an offer to present the two Clinton nominees once the other nine Republicans were confirmed; and failure to play ball would only insure Democrat judges couldn’t be nominated.
That’s how Democrats operate when in power. The famous Obama retort of “I won” in response to Republican concerns over the waste and bad policy in his economic stimulus plan in 2009 was emblematic of that party and the Left’s approach to political power – if you’ve got it, you use it.
The fact that Washington is a left-wing town dominated by a significant Democrat-slanted media has a lot to do with the different levels of aggressiveness between the two parties, Cruz says.
“The old line that Washington is Hollywood for ugly people definitely applies,” he says. “The elected officials desperately want to stay in power. And therefore they don’t want to do things that are hard. Hard is risky, and risky means potentially having to go home.”
Worse, the Beltway Republican establishment has yet to recognize the risks inherent in betraying the conservative voters who sent them to Washington in the first place; the advertisement of those risks being one of the key goals of the RedState Gathering.
Cruz rejects the idea that acting as the “rabbits” President Reagan lamented having when what he needed was tigers in Congress is a smart electoral strategy. One of the more interesting points made by conservative talk host Rush Limbaugh – and others – in recent days is a lamentation of the adage now crystallized in conventional wisdom that 40 percent of the country is Republican, 40 percent is Democrat and all elections are fought over the 20 percent in the middle. That, Limbaugh asserts, is a Democrat fairy tale that Republican political consultants buy into because it makes for an easier metric of success for them (winning tight races by focusing on squishy independents rather than attempting to blow up Democrat coalitions in an effort to win by Reaganesque margins would make consultants look mediocre but for a conventional wisdom that the 40-40-20 formulation means small-ball is the best you can do).
Cruz doesn’t disagree with Limbaugh’s analysis and goes further. Using presidential elections as an easy guide, he notes that Republican candidates who run as strong conservatives in modern times nearly always win. Cruz cites Richard Nixon, who ran in 1968 and 1972 as a strong conservative – though he didn’t particularly govern that way – as a big electoral winner. But in 1976, Gerald Ford ran as a moderate and lost. In 1980, Reagan won by a large margin as a strong conservative and topped that with a shock-and-awe landslide in 1984 as the public rewarded him for running and governing as a conservative. George H. W. Bush ran in 1988 with the offer of Reagan’s third term and won comfortably, but lost in 1992 by running as a moderate. Bob Dole ran poorly in 1996 as a moderate. George W. Bush won as a conservative in 2000 and 2004, but in 2008 with John McCain and last year with Mitt Romney the moderate Republican was beaten.
“Reagan is the template,” Cruz asserts. “You’ve got to draw a line in the sand.”
And with that as a guide, Cruz drew his own line in the sand on a rather contentious issue within the GOP – namely, the squabble over things like NSA surveillance and drones between Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), which very much mirrors the age-old debate between the hard-core small-government conservative in Paul and the East Coast moderate in Christie.
Not surprisingly, Cruz offers his take without hesitation.
“I’m proud to stand with Rand,” he says. “The Bill of Rights and the Constitution are not ‘esoteric’ things. Because of those protections, America is the greatest country in the world. If preserving them isn’t the foremost thing in the mind of our leaders, we don’t have our priorities straight.”