The central features of the shutdown squad — that cadre of right-wing pols and hectoring inside-the-Beltway money-makers urging them on — are three-fold. They are not candid about who they are. They are not in touch with reality. And they are mean-spirited. Let’s take each of them.
The right-wing machine would have us believe that it is them against the “establishment” or the “gray beards,” as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) on Sunday insultingly referred to a group as young and diverse as Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and every GOP governor — all of who opposed the shutdown. In fact, as we’ve written before, if you look at who is behind the shutdown frenzy you will find a great number of older, inside-the-Beltway and out-to-lunch group of men (no women are at the forefront of this nonsense) such as Ed Meese of Senate Conservatives Fund, Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, and Jim DeMint of the Heritage Foundation. Even Cruz is an establishment figure who made a great deal of his living nearly entirely in and around D.C. and more generally, in government.
The ranks of groups like Madison Project, Heritage Action and FreedomWorks are stocked with men who’ve spent years at the RNC, on the Hill and in GOP campaigns. The notion that these are the little people from the heartland up against the big and powerful insiders is just hogwash. The tea party may have started out as a grassroots movement, but it has been fully co-opted by right-wing ideologues who have rattled around the District for years.
Second, the Cruzans operate in their own world with their own facts. Like in any faith-based system, inconvenient facts are always explained away within the paradigm in which they operate. Members do not learn or reconsider because to do so would mean they must admit their entire worldview is fictional. Take, for example, Sen. Marco Rubio’s continued parroting of the shutdown squad lingo, simply false on its face:
WALLACE: You’re one of 18 Republican senators who voted against the final deal to reopen the government. Was that, in effect, a political gesture because you know it was going to pass anyway? Or were you really prepared to keep the government shut down and to bump up, to pass the deadline for raising the debt limit?
RUBIO: Well, let me be clear: I never was in favor of shutting down the government. I was never in favor of defunding the government. I was in favor of funding the government fully, voted to fund the government fully, made efforts to fund the government fully.
The only thing I didn’t want to see us is us waste any more money on is ObamaCare, which is proven to be a disaster. We’re already that these exchanges, which was the sign up on the exchanges, which was supposed to be the easy part of this endeavor, has turned into a fiasco that the administration is struggling with. . . .
WALLACE: But, directly, sir — is McConnell wrong to say government shut down is now off the table?
RUBIO: Well, I never wanted there to be a government shutdown. The people who shut down the government —
WALLACE: I understand, but you —
RUBIO: Yes. But, Chris, the people who shut down the government were the president and the Democrats in Senate who basically said that unless you fund the entire — unless you fund ObamaCare, we’re unwilling to fund the entire government. They took that position and they forced this situation that we have just gone through.
What can you say? And that is not the worst of it. (Rubio allow at one point, “Well, I think in hindsight, any endeavor that one gets in, there are lessons to be learned.” He didn’t say what those were.)
Cruz’s alternative universe is bracing. He declared on Sunday that if only the Senate Republicans had joined the House they would have won. Ummm. They did vote for the defunding. Where were the votes from Democrats to pass defunding? The “blink” by Senate Democrats and the White House never happened. Perfect unity, as we knew from the outset, is insufficient when you don’t control one house of Congress or the White House. When he insists the right-wing “won” and that he’d do it all over again, one has to marvel at the internal fortitude to stick by your assumptions in the face of overwhelming evidence you are wrong. (That’s not a compliment.)
There is no hint that the leaders of the shutdown have crashed their own poll numbers and those of Republicans more generally. There is not the slightest recognition that the most popular and successful Republicans, the governors, were all against this. There is no admission the public did not rise up in favor of the shutdown.
And finally, this is not a pleasant or kind group. Consider the sneering at the furloughed public employees. Recall the accusations that Republican stalwarts like Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) were “betraying” their party. Remember Cruz comparing those who opposed his strategy to Nazi appeasers. He’s not exactly winning friends and influencing people. Indeed, he recently said — with pride oozing — from every pore that he didn’t come to the Senate to make 99 friends. How about a few? And does how one accomplish more than pyrrhic victories if you get along with so few people, and virtually none outside your conclave of true-believers?
The shutdown squad, who revere (they claim) Ronald Reagan, should know that uncommon good cheer, self-deprecating humor and magnanimity were the hallmarks of his personality and in large part the key to his success in winning over those not already convinced of his conservative principles. With the exception of Richard Nixon, Republicans win the presidency when they display genuine empathy and work against the stereotype of the uncaring, angry right-winger. Cruz and too many of his followers relish that profile.
The interests of good government, sane conservatism and GOP viability are well served when the Cruzans ramble on as they do. While their hardcore followers (who are beyond reason) don’t seem bothered, most everyone else can see with each passing pronouncement that these folks are in another world. Even if it is not their sole motivation, it is hard to miss how much money they have raised and how intoxicated with attention are Cruz et. al. It certainly pays to operate in a parallel universe.
So how does the rest of the party fight back? Small-business owners, suburban parents, college kids who want to see another GOP president in their lifetime, national security hawks, fiscal conservatives, strategic-thinking social conservatives and everyone else in the center-right must engage, speak the truth and fill the void by policy that lifts up all Americans. To engage means to run quality candidates (e.g. a fiscal conservative is running a primary challenge against Rep. Jason Amash, a Cruz super-ally), raise money and challenge the far-right on policy and strategy. It means House leadership really does have to lead and fewer (or no?) Republican senators should be joining with Cruz and his sidekick Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) when they seek to bring the government to its knees. Telling the truth means not allowing Cruzans to rewrite history or to shift blame for disaster, and it means finding respected leaders to debunk and decry out-and-out falsehoods. And filling the void means presenting policy and strategy alternatives on everything from a free market-based alternative to Obamacare to a sound 21st-century foreign policy to a compelling message for 2014.
As distressing as it is to see the Cruzans’ blatant distortions, the goal for the remainder of the party is not convincing him and his ilk they are wrong (that’s impossible). The task is to rally everyone else and move in a responsible direction so he becomes irrelevant and, frankly, comical. That’s already begun.