September 19, 2013

Right now, House Republicans and Senate conservatives are in the midst of a full blown war over who will get saddled with the blame when Republicans ultimately admit they don’t have the leverage to defund Obamacare.

It’s unclear how exactly we’ll get to that inevitable point or how much blood will be left on the floor along the way or who will end up spilling most of it. But one thing that seems clear is that the scam perpetrated by Senate conservatives is running out, and Ted Cruz is the reason why.

The short version of what’s happening is that House Republicans finally agreed to give Senate conservatives what they wanted — a bill funding the government at sequester levels while defunding Obamacare. Whereupon Cruz immediately allowed that Republicans won’t be able to get it through the Senate, and renewed the demand that House Republicans (who, after all, are in the majority) keep up the fight. House Republicans understandably erupted in fury last night, accusing Cruz of surrendering and of engaging in a bad faith effort to deflect blame on them for the inevitable failure of a scheme that was always going to fail anyway.

Here’s Ted Cruz trying to clean up the mess on Hannity last night, arguing that he and his fellow defund-Obamacare charlatan Mike Lee will keep the fight going as long as they can:

“I guarantee you one thing, Mike and I are going to fight with every breath in our body,” Cruz said. “As Churchill said, we will fight on the beaches, we will fight in the streets, we will fight at every step to stop the biggest job killer in America.”

Now, historians would probably see Cruz’s comparison of his vow to resist Obamacare to Winston Churchill’s call for full resistance to the Nazis as a tad strained. But that aside, this raises a number of interesting questions.

We know Senate Democrats will probably take the House CR and strip out the defunding of Obamacare in hopes of kicking it back to the House. But as Brian Beutler lays out, there are a number of procedural moves Senate Republicans can take to stall or slow this process — such as a Rand Paul-style drone filibuster — and conservative activists will presumably be expecting them to pull out all the procedural stops. As Beutler notes, if they don’t this whole thing will be exposed as the scam it always was.

What will be particularly interesting to see, though, will be how Cruz and company manage to blame the GOP establishment for the failure of their scheme. Presumably Mitch McConnell will be under heavy pressure to do all he can as minority leader to prevent a “clean” CR from getting kicked back to the House. McConnell announced last night that he supports the House CR bill. But McConnell has always been cool to the defund-Obamacare scheme, and it’s unclear how far he’ll go in trying to procedurally stall against the inevitable — or, indeed, whether there’s actually all that much he can do. And so one imagines McConnell — fairly or not — will be blamed by the Cruz brigade for failing to prevent the clean CR from getting through the Senate.

At that point, House Republicans will be back in the position they’ve always been in — they’ll have to choose between alienating conservatives by passing a clean CR funding the government with the help of a lot of Dems, or taking the blame for a government shutdown. Presuming Boehner opts for the former, the defund-Obamacare smoke machine will simply crank up again and blame Boehner and the establishment for selling them out again.

Cruz’s call on House Republicans yesterday to keep up the fight was a signal to the troops to prepare to train their fire on Boehner again. But the swift denunciation from House Republicans suggests they aren’t going to lie down and take it anymore if and when that happens. They will push back with the reality-based argument that House Republicans have done all they can to prop up this scam — giving Cruz and company exactly what they asked for — and that ultimately it’s unworkable. And they can use Cruz’s own words to do so. In the end Cruz’s own suggestion that this will all be on House Republicans fatally undermines his whole confidence game, because it’s effectively an admission that the scam ultimately can’t be made to work.

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UPDATE: Ryan Grim and Sabrina Siddiqui get the perfect quote:

“Cruz is the leader of a secret cabal of leftists that are seeking control of the conservative movement,” quipped one senior House Republican leadership source. “Their aim is to force the party to take on suicidal missions to destroy the movement from within.”

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.