Every talking head on cable news is crowing that the Republican party is self-destructing by threatening to shut down the U.S. government just to try to defund Obamacare. Yet they are still doing it.
I operate from the premise that people do what they believe is in their own best interest. So I give these fairly smart politicians credit for knowing what they are doing.
Tea Party Republicans know that they don’t have the votes in the Senate to defund the Affordable Care Act, that they don’t have the legal authority to stop a federal program that’s been passed into law and enacted, and that President Obama is not going to sign any bill that castrates his signature achievement and his legacy.
So why are they doing it? What added value do Texas Senator Ted Cruz and the Tea Party see in this strategy that the “expert” pundits don’t?
I am not present in their caucus meetings, so I don’t know for sure. (It’s amazing to me that with so many people in those caucus meetings – who have so many aides and confidantes who know what was said – that these things never slip out in the media.)
But I venture to guess that Cruz and company see a great benefit in this strategy. I think it goes like this:
- They will shut the government down for a few days or weeks. Yes, they’ll take some heat from their opponents, who already are...well, their opponents. So who cares! But President Obama and congressional Democrats will also take quite a bit of flak in the media, and that could soften up support for some purple state House members in 2014.
- House Republicans have passed their "defund Obamacare" CR (Continuing Resolution), and the Senate will predictably reject it. That might soften up a few Democratic Senators who are up for re-election and increase the chances that Republicans win enough seats to control two chambers for Obama’s last two years.
- Even if they only get to 50-50 in the Senate, that means that Vice President Joe Biden might have to cast some politically tough tie-breaking votes himself, putting him on record with liberal votes that could weaken his chances should he somehow become the next Democratic nominee.
- They are betting that the country will continue to sour on President Obama and the Democrats during the shutdown, even if Obamacare still becomes law.
- And if the shutdown can slow down the economic recovery without destroying the country, that will help make their case that the Obama years were a catastrophe that must never be repeated with another Democratic president. Even the wildly popular Hillary.
When you are at war with a more powerful enemy, you must wage a war of attrition. And since Republicans own the House by a wide margin as well as controlling more state legislatures and governors’ mansions, they figure they can sustain a nasty PR battle a lot longer than the Democrats can.
Yes, they know they will take a few hits and lose a few seats here and there. But they are playing a longer game.
They want to wrest the Speakership away from John Boehner or convert him to their views. And convert moderate Republican seats to Tea Party seats. Cults grow in power by growing their numbers, and making their converts even more loyal over time.
Then, this long strategy goes, they sure up their party to nominate a “real conservative” in 2016 and get one of their own in the Oval Office.
It’s a long shot for sure. But it’s a bet they’re willing to take.
There are probably some other appendages of this strategy that I don’t see. But overall it’s clear.
Ted Cruz and his minions are not out to defund Obamacare, but to defang the moderates of their party and decapitate Obama politically.
Or, as legendary Nixon political operative Chuck Colson used to say, “When you’ve got ‘em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”
The squeeze is on and John Boehner has already followed. It will be interesting to see whether the rest of the Republican party and the country follows with him.