The wheels are coming off the clown car that is the modern Republican Party. House and Senate GOP leaders are sniping at each other, on Twitter and, even more nastily, via their congressional aides. And no one's been more vilified than the junior senator from Texas, Ted Cruz. Not even Barack Obama, for a change.
Cruz has defiantly led his party down the dead-end path of demanding that Democrats agree to defund Obamacare in exchange for Republicans' voting to keep funding the government. Polls find even Republicans don’t like that idea, and so a few GOP politicians are asking what Cruz’s endgame is. And when Cruz said he knew Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wouldn’t let such a bill pass the Senate, and suggested it was all up to House Republicans, the knives came out.
Actual House Republicans attacked Cruz under their own names. Arkansas’ Tim Griffin tweeted, “so far Sen Rs are good at getting Facebook likes, and townhalls, not much else. Do something.” Wisconsin’s Sean Duffy likewise tweeted, “House agrees to send #CR to Senate that defunds Obamacare. @SenTedCruz & @SenMikeLee refuse to fight. Wave white flag and surrender.”
Rep. Paul Ryan told Politico in an interview, not via Twitter, that hostility to Cruz and other Senate GOP extremists is “pretty palpable in our conference, I would say. You mean about how they’re saying we’re not going to fight, and back at you, we’re not going to fight but forget about what we said earlier? Yeah, there’s a bit of frustration. … We all believe the same thing, we all want to achieve the same goal, and so we shouldn’t be questioning each other’s conservatism over tactical disagreements.” On CNN, Rep. Peter King accused Cruz of "carrying out a fraud with the people" with his Obamacare crusade and told him to "be quiet."
Anonymously, House GOP aides got more nasty: One suggested, perhaps facetiously, to the Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim that Cruz might be “the leader of a secret cabal of leftists that are seeking control of the conservative movement. Their aim is to force the party to take on suicidal missions to destroy the movement from within.” (I’ve said the same thing about Rush Limbaugh.)
Another said “Nancy Pelosi is more well-liked around here,” while a third jumped in with a little bit of sexism to insult the first-term senator: “It is disappointing to see that Wendy Davis has more balls than Ted Cruz.” Davis, you'll remember, filibustered a draconian Texas antiabortion law, standing and talking to her state Senate colleagues for over 11 hours until the GOP leadership found a pretext to shut her down.
Cruz shot back, “I’m always impressed by the courage of anonymous congressional aides.” But obviously Cruz has problems with real live congressional Republicans, who are using their own names, not just aides. Sean Duffy hit him again Friday on "Morning Joe," complaining, "all summer long as these ads have been running, as they've been holding town halls and raising money, we've kept a lid on our anger in the House as we were the punching bag and bullied by some of these Senate conservatives," Duffy said. "And so now with the CR vote that's gonna come today we are gonna give them exactly what they've asked for — the opportunity to fight in the Senate on defunding Obamacare. And you saw us explode with anger publicly when they stood up and started waving the white flag saying, 'Listen, we're not gonna fight here, we're gonna surrender, we can't win.'"
Now, even Robert Costa, the National Review writer who’s been doing the best reporting on Cruz – including regularly talking to Cruz himself, and treating him fairly – is being attacked by a leader of the conservative media entertainment complex, Mark Levin. “Why is NRO trashing Cruz?” Levin tweeted late Thursday, linking to Costa’s informative and fair piece on Republican resentment of Cruz, “Ted Cruz and His Enemies,” which gave Cruz plenty of time and space to reply.
“I’m convinced there is a new paradigm in politics — the rise of the grass roots,” Cruz told Costa. “And on Obamacare, I’ve said, from the start, that if typical Washington rules apply, we can’t win this. If the forums in which we make this case consist of the smoke-filled rooms of Washington, the votes aren’t there. The only way this fight will be won is if the American people rise up and hold our elected officials accountable.”
Still, late Thursday Cruz backtracked and said he was open to filibustering the old-fashioned way – as ballsy Wendy Davis did in the Texas Senate, and Cruz’s 2016 rival Sen. Rand Paul did about drone policy last March, by standing up and talking for a long time. But Cruz, maybe predictably, didn’t commit to doing it, and Senate rules may make it technically impossible to mount a talking filibuster.
Cruz has been feuding with more centrist members of his party since he arrived in the Senate in January, calling Republicans who work with Democrats "squishes" and "the surrender caucus." Sen. John McCain in turn called him a "wacko bird." But the open conflict with even conservative House members is a whole new front of warfare for Cruz.
Has there ever been anyone elected to Congress who’s immediately earned the enmity of both Republicans and Democrats? At a time when the two parties, sadly, can’t agree about anything, maybe this is a start.