It’s interesting to watch Ted Cruz and Sean Hannity interact. The two men have much in common ideologically and clearly operate on very similar wavelengths – Hannity’s Q&A with Cruz at CPAC last month had the rhythm of a practiced comedy bit, with straight-man Hannity setting up Cruz’s zingers and applause lines. These guys get each other.
And so it’s not surprising that the very first interview Ted Cruz gave after officially declaring his presidential candidacy was to Hannity, who devoted the entirety of his Fox News program last night to Cruz’s White House aspirations. Stopping by Hannity’s show also made political sense for Cruz; he intends to win by rallying religious white conservatives for one last glorious campaign, and Hannity has spent the last seven years as a field marshal for angry, white conservative America.
The interview, you may have guessed, was a joke. Many of the questions Hannity aimed at Cruz weren’t even “questions” so much as invitations for Cruz to speak, uninterrupted, for as long as he wished. Nonetheless, he did manage to get Cruz to say something interesting regarding the incident for which he is best known: the 2013 government shutdown.
Playing off a New York Times piece on how pretty much everyone in Washington hates Cruz, Hannity asked: “But the question is, how do you -- when they say you're the most hated man in the Senate, why is that? Why are some people in your party so against Ted Cruz and angry that you did the filibuster?” The “filibuster” he’s referring to was the 21-hour speech Cruz gave on the Senate floor in opposition to the Affordable Care Act in September 2013, shortly before the government shut down. I chafe every time someone refers to it as a “filibuster,” given that it was no such thing – Cruz was just filling the hours between votes. Harry Reid actually offered him more time to speak, but Cruz declined because he had to phone in to Rush Limbaugh. Calling it a “filibuster” makes it seem like Cruz was mounting a desperate last stand when really all he did was kill some time.
Anyway, Cruz swelled up with pride talking about his self-aggrandizing stunt, and said that it would have worked if only more Republicans in Congress had been has courageous:
HANNITY: Do you think your party let you down when you stood on health care? In other words, you said if we stand together, we can get this done, and they didn't stand with you.
CRUZ: Look, it's not a question of letting me down. It's a question of letting down the people who elected us. Republicans all over the country campaigned saying, if you elect us, we'll fight...
HANNITY: In other words, if every Republican stood, you think that it would have been successful.
CRUZ: I think it absolutely would have been successful. Now, would we necessarily have succeeded in at the time defunding all of Obamacare? I don't know. That was a difficult -- it would have taken a perfect storm. But I think at a minimum, we would have provided meaningful relief for millions of people being hurt by Obamacare.
This answer is interesting because Cruz’s verdict on the shutdown has gone through several different revisions as the months have worn on, though each one invariably casts Ted Cruz as the hero.
Way back in the summer of 2013, as the government funding deadline approached, Cruz tried to rally Republicans behind his shutdown plan. “If we can actually get Republicans to stand up and fight,” Cruz said in July, “I believe we can win this fight.” The way he described it, victory – meaning the defunding of Obamacare – was essential, given that they wouldn’t get another shot at it. “No major entitlement, once it has been implemented, has ever been unwound,” he said at the time. “If we don’t do it now, in all likelihood we never will.”
By that standard, Cruz failed. So he did the only logical thing: he shifted the goalposts and blamed someone else. In December 2013 he was interviewed on ABC News and was asked, in hindsight, if the shutdown was a mistake. Cruz gamely argued that it was actually President Obama and the Democrats who bore responsibility. “I think it was absolutely a mistake for President Obama and Harry Reid to force a government shutdown,” he said. “Repeatedly Republicans were compromising, trying to find a middle ground and repeatedly Democrats said, no compromise, shut it down.” Remember, Cruz’s position before this was the maximalist goal of eliminating Obamacare, not “trying to find a middle ground.” (Also, Ted Cruz got elected by promising to never, ever compromise on anything, so… hah.)
A few months later, Cruz thought better of that argument and argued that the shutdown – which, again, failed to achieve what Cruz had intended – was a political success for Republicans. As the midterm elections approached he was taking credit for having “elevated the national debate” with the shutdown, “and now, the misguided healthcare law is more unpopular than ever.”
That brings us to last night’s Hannity, and Cruz’s argument that the shutdown would have worked if only the rest of the GOP and the Washington elites had been willing to stand on righteous principle with Ted Cruz and the people. (So much for Republicans “trying to find a middle ground.”) As Dave Weigel points out, Cruz just recently allowed that his biggest mistake in the shutdown fight was his inability to win those selfsame elites over to his cause.
At this point it’s near-impossible to keep track of who Cruz blames (or credits) for the failure (or success) of the government shutdown. The only person who is blameless, according to Ted Cruz, is Ted Cruz.