Can Ted Cruz Win? (Probably Not)
Posted on March 24, 2015
(This originally appeared in The Hill.)
I was listening to Rush Limbaugh when I heard the advertisement.
The voice blaring over the radio belonged to the junior senator from Texas, and he was calling for the Congress to defund ObamaCare. He was also urging listeners to donate to the Senate Conservatives Fund, an organization that’s spent millions of dollars attacking fellow Republicans for being what it deems insufficiently conservative.
Ted Cruz, having burned his bridges in the Senate, now thinks his destiny lies in a race for the White House. Perhaps it does, but his assault on almost every one of his fellow Republicans during his brief tenure in the upper chamber, while not completely unprecedented, is certainly a creative way to get the nomination.
Just as Cruz was making this announcement, his fellow hard-line conservatives were complaining bitterly about having to face radio and TV attack ads funded by American Action Forum, a think tank closely aligned with Speaker John Boehner, condemning these conservatives for their announced strategy of shutting down the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in an effort to force President Obama to repeal his executive orders on immigration.
It is a bit rich for these members to complain about the same tactics being used against them that they quietly cheered on when used against their foes. Turnabout is fair play, I guess, until it’s your gander that is being cooked.
But I guess that is the current state of the Republican Party, and we might as well start getting used to it.
Boehner, as Speaker, is rightly fed up with the nonsense of the Cruz caucus, and he is going to pivot to start getting some accomplishments under his belt.
I don’t think the Speaker necessarily loves the idea of negotiating with former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to get these big things done. He would feel better if he could count on his team to vote with him on occasion. But he can’t, as demonstrated by the collapse of a three-week extension of DHS funding. Boehner learned quickly that, if he wanted to govern, he would have to find a different coalition.
The Freedom Caucus literally pushed Boehner into the arms of Nancy Pelosi.
A Speaker of the House has two responsibilities. First, he has to speak for the entire House as an institution, which means he has to help govern. Second, he has to lead his party. Sometimes, those two responsibilities come into conflict — and that’s what is happening today.
Every Speaker faces this dilemma. Sam Rayburn would have open rules and let the House work its will on the big issues of the day. Tip O’Neill chose to turn the floor over Bob Michel in the early days of the Reagan revolution, when he didn’t have the votes to stop him. Pelosi, on issues like war funding, would vote “no” in the expectation that her vote would be meaningless, which it was.
Even my former boss, Denny Hastert, at times, had no choice but to disappoint the majority of the majority. It didn’t happen often, but it did happen.
Of course, when Hastert was Speaker, we had a far different Republican Party, one that was far more disciplined, far more ideologically homogenous. That was before the financial crisis, before Obama, before Twitter and before the rise of the Tea Party.
The reality is that John Boehner doesn’t have a unified Republican Party with which he can effectively govern. It’s not his fault. It’s not anybody’s fault. It’s just where we are as a country in this time and place.
It’s in this fractured world where Ted Cruz thrives. He’s a smart guy, and I am sure if you get a chance to talk to him, he will let you know how smart he is. Will Cruz seize the reins of power and win the nomination for president? He’s not my choice, but hey, anything is possible.
In a world where a group of hard-liners do everything they can to make John Boehner work closely with Nancy Pelosi to provide effective governance for the nation, anything is indeed possible.