Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) isn’t about to let history stand in the way of a self-destructive fight. In support of his brainstorm to shut down the government over Obamacare funding, he declared: “The sort of cocktail chatter wisdom in Washington that, ‘Oh, the [1995-1996] shutdown was a political disaster for Republicans,’ is not borne out by the data.”
Well, if you consider Pickett’s charge a win for General Robert E. Lee and the 2006 elections a moral victory for House Republicans, then you’ll buy what Cruz is selling.
My colleague Glenn Kessler wrote the definitive analysis of the ’90s government shutdown in 2011:
In the end, after weeks of turmoil, the Republicans meekly gave up and eventually cut a deal with Clinton that was not much different than what they could have gotten before the shutdown.
Clinton used the episode as the springboard for his successful reelection campaign, and he humiliated Republicans for it during his 1996 State of the Union speech. He singled out for praise a man seated next to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton — Social Security Administration worker Richard Dean, who had survived the Oklahoma City bombing and rescued three people from the devastated Murrah Federal Building.
As Republicans stood and applauded Dean’s heroism, Clinton pulled out the knife, recounting how Dean was forced out of his office during the first shutdown and had to work without pay in the second one. “Never, ever, shut the federal government down again,” the president scolded.
After that, Clinton never lagged in the polls again.
When a balanced-budget agreement was finally reached a couple of years later, it was almost entirely on Clinton’s terms. It is remembered as his achievement, not that of the Republicans who had pressed so hard for it.
Cruz was 26 years old in 1996. So there really isn’t any excuse for his cockeyed history. But, as House Republicans are anxious to remind me, Cruz is in the minority and relishes stunts; the House Republicans have to govern — or face losing their majority. Actually, come to think of it, Cruz’s philosophy is a recipe to keep Senate Republicans in a permanent minority. After all, if Cruz-like characters are running things, would you trust the GOP with a Senate majority?