Sen. Ted Cruz
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) speaking on the Senate floor. (Senate TV via Associated Press)

A funny thing happened on the way to the shutdown: The Senate Republicans, from whose midst the defund Obamacare scheme came, are more united than ever, in large part because the ringleaders of the defund gambit were shown to be failures and, worse, inept.

A longtime Republican on the Hill explains, “The members have real life experience now. What [the defund Obamacare leaders] said didn’t happen.” Indeed, there is zero chance Obamacare will be defunded, and Democratic support for the defund effort never appeared as Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) had assured them it would. There is no sign the shutdown is forcing the president to cave; if anything he’s dug in even further. The entire escapade made it impossible for Republicans, at least for now, to obtain smaller gains and, most important, get onto the main event, the debt ceiling.

Many on the GOP side in the Senate are openly disparaging Cruz, who only a week ago was presenting himself as the model conservative. The burning resentment members and staff were expressing over the weekend as Cruz targeted them, rather than Democrats, has turned to open fury, disdain and much eye-rolling.

Politico reports:

Ted Cruz faced a barrage of hostile questions Wednesday from angry GOP  senators, who lashed the Texas tea party freshman for helping prompt a  government shutdown crisis without a strategy to end it.

At a closed-door lunch meeting in the Senate’s Mansfield Room, Republican after Republican pressed Cruz to explain how he would propose to end the bitter budget impasse with Democrats, according to senators who attended the meeting. A defensive Cruz had no clear plan to force an end to the shutdown — or explain how he would defund Obamacare, as he has demanded all along, sources said.

He enraged colleagues further by refusing to repudiate his attack dogs at the Senate Conservatives Fund who savaged Republicans. A Senate source tells Right Turn, “Cruz
got the brunt, but Lee too.” Perhaps most shocking, no senator, according to three GOP sources, rose in their defense. They have, to be blunt, been repudiated by a newly united GOP caucus. One Senate aide said, “I don’t think Sen. Cruz entered that meeting with a thick skin, but he left learning he needs one going forward, along with a strategy.”

The behavior of the defund trio in this drama has changed markedly as well. Rubio has practically gone into hiding. Instead of news clips of his appearances hyping the defund strategy, his office sends out press releases about flood insurance. Having opposed any clean continuing resolution, Cruz and Lee now are backing the clean mini-continuing resolution strategy. Although he won’t take back the insults, you don’t hear Cruz excoriate fellow Republicans in public these days. Lee, meanwhile, had to backpedal on his initial decision to take his salary, something many Republicans have declined to do. They are now on defense and under the gun from all sides, trying their best not to remind the media and supporters that their plan has been a bust.

Should there be another cloture vote on a continuing resolution that doesn’t defund or delay Obamacare, it’s doubtful Cruz would get anything near even the tepid support he did when 18 Republicans (and some of those voted with him only because of the sequester budget numbers) joined him on the original House continuing resolution. The “fear factor,” if you will, is gone.

Cruz recently has been compared to Barack Obama. Both were freshmen senators with presidential aspirations, big talkers and solo acts rather than team players. But Cruz experienced what Obama was smart enough to avoid — a high-profile drubbing that deflated the image of an invincible new figure on the national stage. Moreover, Obama, unlike Cruz, was not openly hostile to his colleagues, thereby preventing a nonstop flood of criticism and embarrassing anecdotes. Maybe in the long run that will help Cruz, who could learn a lesson about attacking Republicans and promising supporters the moon and the stars. But, for now, the defund strategy designed to elevate him has exposed him as a disliked and inept lawmaker, giving rise to the question of what he is accomplishing for the voters of Texas.

He  might take a look at Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who was cagey enough to be opposed to the defund strategy, made a brief appearance during the 21-hour talk-a-thon, voted against the defund continuing resolution cloture (getting him out of Jim DeMint’s line of fire) and then promptly took up a conciliatory tone. Now Rand Paul suggests a shorter continuing resolution or muses that everyone should just sit down for a chat. He knows that vitriol can come back to bite you, especially if you make a spectacular belly-flop.

The Senate Republicans lack a majority, of course, so any deals on the continuing resolution and the debt ceiling likely will have to come from the House. But you hear from many Senate offices now that they’ve “never been more united.” That will help in the battles ahead and may, with a divided and frenetic House GOP caucus, cast them once again as the voice of reason and as instrumental deal-makers (as they were in 2011).

Call it karma or comeuppance or schadenfreude, but most members, for now, are satisfied to see Cruz on the receiving end of an angry GOP contingent and vivid confirmation of their misgivings about his defund strategy. There is nothing so satisfying as standing up to a bully.

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Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.