After the government shutdown ended, when Republicans would even leave the garden of anonymity to trash Ted Cruz for putting them in an awkward position, the Texas senator insisted that he would fight on.
"I would do anything, and I will continue to do anything I can, to stop the train wreck that is Obamacare," Cruz told ABC News three months ago.
What did "anything" mean? Presumably, it meant "anything." Pundits asked whether Cruz would throw another cluster bomb when the omnibus spending bill came up. The Wall Street Journal's Neil King interviewed Cruz less than two weeks ago; the senator did nothing to wave off speculation.
In an interview, he lambasted Senate Republicans for a lack of courage, compared himself to Ronald Reagan and vowed to "fight even harder…to repeal every word of Obamacare."
Republicans must use "every leverage point available" to uproot the law, he said in a 45-minute discussion in which he mentioned Obamacare more than 40 times... Mr. Cruz said opportunities to scale back the law will come with a spending bill to fund federal agencies, which must be approved by Jan. 15.
Well, the bill passed. It won such massive majorities in the House and Senate (though most Senate Republicans, like Cruz, opposed it) that it stopped being a story. A fight is news; a handshake usually isn't. What happened to Cruz? David Rogers reports it succinctly:
Coming out of a party luncheon, Cruz’s colleagues said he was insistent on demanding a vote on this amendment, even if it meant delaying passage. But ultimately the Texan changed his tone. Instead he used a speech on the floor to highlight his complaints about the president’s program and then politely left after Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) objected to his requests.
Sensitive to the perception of him backing down, Cruz’s office said later that “he remains committed to keeping the conversation about Obamacare front and center as the law continues to harm more and more Americans by raising their premiums, canceling their plans and keeping them from their doctors.”
Right—he's got to say he'll fight till the last dog dies, but he's not actually going to do it. Doing so would be bad strategy! Cruz can't admit it, but the shutdown and the way it was covered have gotten every Republican on board with the plan to pass bills in 2014, win the midterms, and then attack Obamacare from a position of strength. The omibus cut the promotional fund for the ACA by $1 billion; that's about as good as Republicans can do until they get 51 Senate seats and force the president to veto their Obamacare-repealing budgets.