The Heritage Foundation, still making amends for its old advocacy of a health care mandate, played host to Sen. Ted Cruz today for a talk about the "defund Obamacare" movement. It was the latest in a run of conservative media appearances for Cruz; anyone who'd heard what he told Glenn Beck or Fox & Friends got a preview of what he'd tell conservative bloggers.
"Some Republicans are nervous about being blamed for a government shutdown," said Cruz. "I ask them: What's your alternative?" The CR would be the last chance of killing Obamacare, and if defunding doesn't make it in, "any elected official who votes for the CR is affirmatively voting to fund Obamacare."
Fellow Republicans have spent a few days battering the "defund" movement, insisting that it's a waste of time—no way you get the Senate to agree to it, no way you get the president to sign it. Cruz's first strategic answer to this was insisting that the CR could be filibustered, "if we hold 41 Republicans." They didn't need a majority. "The model I would turn to is the battle over guns," said Cruz, a battle that ended in a Republican victory even though most senators voted for a background checks bill.
I asked Cruz about a pattern I saw emerging every time conservatives staged a fight like this. Wasn't there, inevitably, a backlash inside the GOP caucus? Didn't the push for a showdown lead to a few Republicans cutting a deal, as happened with filibusters?
"The Obama White House operates on the assumption Republicans will surrender on every major issue," said Cruz. What he needed were 63 days of Republican activists putting the fear into the party if it didn't defund Obamacare, and great communicators shifting the blame for a shutdown from Republicans to Obama. "If we got to this fight, they ought to be on television every hour of the day, asking: Why is President Obama shutting down your government, because he's so committed to forcing Obamacare on you?"
To make that point, Cruz argued that the 1995 government shutdown really didn't hurt the GOP in the long run. They won "years of balanced budgets," and in the 1996 election, they held Congress. "The sort of cocktail chatter wisdom that, oh, the shutdown was a disaster for Republicans, is not borne out by the data."
The most dogged questions for Cruz came from Michael Warren, a reporter for the Weekly Standard—a magazine now taking the position that Republicans should focus on delay, not defunding. Warren asked Cruz why he'd commit to polls that showed voters cool on defunding, one of them coming from the Kaiser Foundation. Cruz challenged the data.
"Polls have multiple functions," said Cruz. "Sometimes people use polls to determine what American people think ... but polls like that are largely useless. They're designed to make an advocacy point." The Kaiser poll insisted that defunding would shut down the government; why couldn't Republicans insist that Obama was shutting down the government?