On Thursday afternoon, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) sent out a mass e-mail that encapsulated the malicious game that he and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) have been operating. The e-mail heading was flat-out false: “GOP Has the Votes to Stop Funding Obamacare.” Wrong. Republicans have 45 people who would vote to keep the government running without Obamacare discretionary funding. They do not have — and never had have — 51 votes; that is the grand falsehood on which Lee and Cruz have built their edifice.

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

Lee goes on to claim: “House Republicans showed tremendous courage and unity in voting to fund government, avoid a shutdown and protect the American people from the harmful effects of Obamacare.” Yet Cruz and Lee want to filibuster the handiwork of those same House Republicans. Put aside for a moment that Lee treats the cloture threshold as a “trick.” (Didn’t Republicans fight tooth and nail to keep it?)

Republicans do not have 51 votes to get their way. Period. Lee and Cruz have misled the House and the American people and trashed their colleagues for one reason: to promote themselves. The course they set upon would never have gotten the promised results, and the fault is not that of Republicans (aside from the GOP candidates who ran cruddy campaigns and lost in 2010 and 2012), but the Dems and the White House (who, by the way, could veto any defunding, thereby requiring 67 votes for defunding/a veto override).

On Thursday, Cruz threw one last curveball, evidencing one of two motives. He would not allow unanimous consent to move the cloture vote up to Thursday night; it therefore would be delayed until Friday, even though the same House Republicans whom Lee and Cruz have repeatedly praised need additional time to try to tweak what comes back from the Senate. Why wouldn’t Cruz allow the House the badly needed time? Perhaps he simply wants them to swallow the Senate clean CR, relieving him of the distasteful questions about why he wouldn’t filibuster that bill as well when it comes right back to the Senate. Or maybe, as Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) suggested on the floor, Cruz wants a better TV viewing time.

Regardless, neither Cruz nor Lee has ever produced the votes they said were there. If they aren’t there now, Cruz would have the Republicans do what — shut down the government and wait forever?

Because the House zealots fiddled with the spending caps, some Republican senators may vote against cloture, on the grounds they are protecting the sequester. This is an easy way out of avoiding the wrath of Cruz and Heritage while not really endorsing his deceptive Obamacare defunding plan.

It is odd, however, considering that the top-line number remains the same as in the original sequester; Republicans are supposed to favor more spending on the defense side, less on the domestic side — which is exactly what the bill does. And of course, the nervous Republicans know full well that repealing Obamacare would show an increase in the deficit initially. (Would they have preferred the CR contained taxes to offset the Obamacare defunding?) These Republicans, to put it mildly, are not profiles in courage and can vote “no” with the security of knowing that their braver colleagues will vote yes, keep the government running and take heat from Cruz and the grassroots bullies.

It may surprise some Americans that so many senators, accomplished and obviously connected to their constituents, are such nervous nellies, looking over their shoulders at possible primary challenges and fearing a starring role (as a target) in a DeMint attack ad. But that is the way it has been for some time in the Senate, a group of zealots who wreak havoc and claim glory while the grown-ups take the heat. The Democrats can then paint all Republicans as anti-government nihilists.

One hopes that Abraham Lincoln was right about not being able to fool all of the people all of the time.