Why Friday’s cloture vote will embolden cast-iron conservatives, in four easy steps

September 27, 2013

All was not lost on Friday for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and his conservative cohort.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

While his call for his colleagues to vote against cloture on a stopgap spending bill was overwhelmingly defeated by a 79-19 margin, it's notable that nearly 40 percent of the Senate GOP Conference voted with Cruz, reflecting the political if not policy influence the right wing of the party has right now.

Here's why, in four easy steps:

1. As The Post's Paul Kane noted, when you take away the five top-ranking Republican leaders, the rank and file was basically split down the middle. Put another way, Cruz basically fought Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to a draw on this issue.

2. Dig deeper into the 19 "no" votes. They include National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Jerry Moran (Kan.) and Vice Chairman Rob Portman (Ohio), hardly cast-iron conservative ideologues. Why would they vote "no" then? To prevent the Cruz wing of party, which includes the Jim DeMint-led Heritage Foundation and the anti-tax Club For Growth, among others, from lobbing conservative-vs.-establishment attacks and fundraising pleas against them on this vote, in which the issue of defunding Obamacare was front and center. Yes, the NRSC has protected itself against broadsides that would threaten to further fray the party. But the fact they felt the need to do so in the first place speaks volumes about the threat they saw. And you can't be a threat without power.

3. There was no policy at stake in this vote. It was procedural. And as some Republicans privately argue, had there been actual policy at stake, Cruz would probably have received far less support. But policy is not where his wing of the party's power is centered. (Just ask yourself what bills DeMint was ever responsible for passing as a senator.) It's politics where their weight is felt. This vote reinforced that muscle.

4. All three of the GOP senators most often mentioned as potential 2016 candidates voted "no." In addition to Cruz, Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) each voted against cloture. That's a pretty hefty cross-section of the potential 2016 field right there.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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