Ted Cruz Could Easily Lose on Obamacare and Still Win Big

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 23 2013 9:09 AM

The Cult of Ted Cruz

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Sen. Ted Cruz could lose big on defunding Obamacare and still win in the eyes of his Republican base.

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

There's really no way for Sen. Ted Cruz to "lose" the Potemkin battle over defunding Obamacare. Let's review the major possible outcomes.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

Total victory: Democrats give up on decades of work passing health insurance reforms, and agree to defund Obamacare. Cruz is legitimately seen as a visionary guerilla hero, the man who did what no one thought possible!

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Partial victory: Obamacare is funded, but some compromise on the debt limit delays most of its implementation. Cruz would take credit for shifting the Overton window and forcing this compromise; it would sound similar to his theory that the filibuster of Manchin-Toomey was only possible because he had threatened to filibuster the motion to proceed to any debate on a gun bill.

Total defeat: Obamacare is funded; on October 1, lucky duckies start signing up on exchanges. Cruz still manages to portray himself as the last man swinging a sword on the battlefield, because the conservative base—his audience—isn't going to bother with understanding (or believing) how Senate rules doomed the effort.

No, the base is primed to reward Cruz, whatever he does or doesn't achieve. Our current proof is the minor outrage at Chris Wallace, the Fox News Sunday host who interviewed Cruz yesterday then let viewers in on a secret.

As soon as we listed Ted Cruz as our featured guest this week, I got unsolicited research and questions, not from Democrats, but from top Republicans who -- to hammer Cruz. Why are Republicans so angry at Ted Cruz?  

This engendered a quick backlash from conservatives, starting with former Discovery Channel host Sarah Palin. "Keep it TRULY fair & balanced," she tweeted. "Release the GOP names encouraging you to trash @SenTedCruz. No more anonymous sources." Palin's verb inflation—from Wallace's "hammer" to her "trash"—continued on TheRightScoop, which accused Wallace of collecting "opposition research" on Cruz.

But did Wallace "trash" Cruz? Not really, and not using anonymous sources. His line of questioning focused on the boring-yet-vital logistics of the Senate. 

- You say... we'll do whatever you can, including a talking filibuster, to block consideration of the bill that the House just passed. The problem is that you would be blocking a bill which you actually support, which would fund the government but defund ObamaCare. So, how are you going to get other Republican senators on board to block a bill that you support? 
- Are you going to block consideration of the bill? Basically, the first issue is, are you going to allow consideration of the bill? And you can filibuster that after -- if you lose that, then a simple majority could take out ObamaCare. So, are you going to allow consideration of the bill, have an up-or-down vote on defunding ObamaCare, or are you going to block them from even taking a bill which you support?
- If I may, you say this is brute political power. Other times, you said it's a procedural gimmick. It's Senate Rule 22, which has been around for years. It's part of the Senate rules and it says after you end -- you allow debate, after you take cloture, that you can pass an amendment by a simple majority. That's the rule.
- You need 41 votes. You're one vote. You need 40 other Republican senators to go with you to block consideration of the House bill in the Senate. How many do you have right now, Senator?
- Here is the question everyone on both sides is asking in Washington, which is -- what's your end game? Let's say that you block consideration of any bill in the Senate. Or let's say that you lose, and the bill goes into the Senate and they take out ObamaCare and they send it back to the House -- what's your end game? Because the government is going to shut down a week from Monday.

After trying to pin Cruz down, Wallace quoted by name three Republicans—Rep. Tim Griffin, Rep. Peter King, and Sen. Bob Corker—who had criticized the strategy. There was no "oppo" in the deck, no gotcha from Cruz's past, no anonymous souces. (I mean, compare Wallace's questions to the average "insidery" HuffPo or Politico story that gives aides anonymity to dump all over a senator.) Wallace's sources seemed to have nudged him to focus on the multi-part process of filibustering, to "hammer" him that way. But conservatives quickly told themselves that Cruz was being attacked personally. That's the way you can expect the post-vote biases to array themselves—Cruz could go down in flames, but the base won't see it that way.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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