In his quasi-filibuster against Obamacare and then in his efforts to keep conservative discipline among House members, Cruz won the opprobrium of mainstream Republicans but the approbation of conservatives, who could become an important bloc of support if he seeks the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.
The impact of the tea party might be on the decline — a Marist Poll released last week showed that support for the movement, now at 23 percent, is down by 11 percentage points in three years, a precipitous drop. But that might not matter in a Republican primary, where the tea partiers are likely to be more committed and more likely to vote than other Republicans — the 21st-century equivalents of religious conservatives in the 1980s. At the same time, credit Cruz with ingenuity along with steely intelligence. He has had more impact in nine months in the Senate than Obama did in 46 months.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi abandoned their restraint and poured on the invective, with gusto. They thought the Republicans so odious that they could ignore the principle expressed a century ago by a fellow Democrat, Woodrow Wilson: There’s no reason to murder a man in the process of committing suicide.
Now, what none of them thought of: The risk that the Obama rationale on Syria — that if the president doesn’t get his way on foreign policy, his domestic agenda will be wrecked — really does apply, only its impact could be the other way around. The risk that this shutdown is only the overture to a shutdown sonata, with the next movement coming soon, featuring the debt ceiling. The risk both sides took in following this path without an exit strategy.
And this: The risk that this sorry episode will result in an anti-incumbency movement as in 1994, only this time, with party control on Capitol Hill split, endangering both GOP rule in the House and Democratic rule in the Senate.
Maybe these guys aren’t such geniuses after all. Maybe they didn’t think this all the way through before putting the country through an upheaval the voters will rain back on them.
North Shore native and Pulitzer Prize winner David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.