This is the most important week of Ted Cruz’s (short) career

September 23, 2013

Say what you want about Ted Cruz (and people say lots of things -- both good and bad) but the Texas Republican has spent his first nine months in the Senate drastically raising his national profile with nary a slip-up along the way.


Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), speaks at a news conference with conservative Congressional Republicans who persuaded the House leadership to include defunding the Affordable Care Act in legislation to prevent a government shutdown, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

That is, until last week when Cruz found himself publicly cross-wise with House Republicans over his oft-repeated demand to give him a chance to defund Obamacare. The House passed a bill that did just that and Cruz quickly released a statement insisting that it was unlikely that he would be able to defund the law in the Senate. (He repeated that sentiment Sunday; "The House is the only body where Republicans have the majority, so the House has to lead on this," Cruz said on "Fox News Sunday".)

House Republicans, notably, have sneered at Cruz's assertion that he has no power to keep the defunding provision in the legislation ("Thank God he wasn’t there fighting at the Alamo," said Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin) and insisted publicly that the ball was now in the court of the Senate GOP.

And so, as the attention turns to the Senate this week in the ongoing fight over whether the government will remain open past Sept. 30 (it might not) and if President Obama's health-care law will be defunded (it won't), the question is whether Cruz can bounce back from the only major stumble he's experienced to date.

Cruz has shown a remarkable adeptness at playing the outside game, burnishing his credentials as someone who doesn't know or care about the ways of Washington because those ways are broken and don't serve the public. But, this is a week in which Cruz will need to show some level of dexterity at the inside game as well. For those who would dismiss the importance of the inside game, remember that while your own party establishment probably can't keep you from a presidential nomination, they can make it a heck of a lot harder to win one.

To be clear: A Cruz bounce back should not be judged solely on whether he can round up the 40 additional votes necessary to keep a bill that keeps the government funded but strips the Obamacare defunding off the floor of the Senate. Unless there is a major shift among Republicans in the Senate, Cruz won't be able to find those 40 votes.

Instead, the key to measuring Cruz's success will be what approach he takes to making his opposition to Obamacare known and what (if any) impact it has. Does Cruz launch a traditional talking filibuster, a doomed but principled effort to show how strongly he opposes the measure? If he doesn't, is he able to convince/cajole a handful of wavering Republican senators to vote against cloture? Can Cruz make enough of a stand in the Senate to stiffen the spines of House Republicans -- assuming the legislation, sans defunding Obamacare, is headed their way some time in the next week?

Cruz seems little interested in making nice with his colleagues -- Democrats or Republicans. And, that's fine -- heck, it probably works in his favor politically at a time when people loathe political Washington and its inhabitants. But, what Cruz must prove this week is that he's more than just talk; that when he has the chance to act on principle, he does everything he can to do exactly that. (Think Sen. Rand Paul's filibuster on drones.)

In short: It's put up or shut up time for Ted Cruz this week.

Fixbits:

Obama said at a memorial service Sunday for the victims of the mass shooting at the Navy Yard that he sensed "a creeping resignation" that violent outbreaks like that one last week "is somehow the new normal."

Here's what the next eight days could bring in the government shutdown showdown.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) won the presidential straw poll at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who fought for expanded background checks earlier this year, said he's not going to press for a renewed gun debate unless he sees an uptick in support for the effort.

Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger predicted that Syria would comply with "90 percent" of a tentative deal to turn over its chemical weapons stockpile. "But the risk of holding anything back is very great," he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) suggested she's still interested in being speaker.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) plans to run for reelection in 2016.

Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan's book is due out next summer.

Sean Eldridge, the husband of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, officially launched his campaign against Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.)

Must-reads:

"Scandal at Clinton Inc. How Doug Band drove a wedge through a political dynasty" -- Alec MacGillis, The New Republic

"Groups flush with out-of-state cash flock to Virginia governor’s race as testing ground" -- Matea Gold and Ben Pershing, Washington Post

"Hillary in Midair" -- Joe Hagan, New York Magazine

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Chris Cillizza · September 22, 2013