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The failed Cruzade

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) didn’t defund Obamacare. He drove a government shutdown. But he couldn’t be happier.
/ Source: MSNBC TV

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) didn’t defund Obamacare. He drove a government shutdown. But he couldn’t be happier.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) didn’t defund Obamacare. He drove a government shutdown. His party is tanking in the polls.

But he couldn’t be happier.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Cruz called the House's actions a "remarkable victory" and a "profile in courage."

Cruz has emerged as the latest celebrity politician who doesn’t need big policy achievements to build his cred, but a following on the far right of his party.

He proved he can make the Republican House bend to his will, pushing them to demand Obamacare be tied to any deal to fund the government, despite no clear path to victory, and now he’s reaping the spoils.

Cruz pulled in nearly $800,000 in the last quarter – nearly twice his last haul. He dominates cable news; he even preempted Mitch McConnell  when the minority leader was laying out a deal to reopen the government. And he has the unofficial title of Tea Party leader.

“He’s definitely positioned himself as the indisputable leader of the conservative wing of the conservative party,” said Walter Wilson, a political science professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio. 

So even though he won nothing in the fight, he’s coming out a winner.

Cruz, who just last month delivered a marathon, 21-hour speech against Obamacare, and had spearheaded an effort to defund or delay the act in exchange for a Congressional spending deal, said on Wednesday that he won’t stand in the way of a Senate deal to end the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.

The initial battle began when House GOPers tried several times to attach measures to a funding bill to delay or defund Obama’s healthcare bill. Those efforts were axed by the White House and Senate Dems. GOPers then tried to include the shutdown fight into the next deadline to raise the debt ceiling.

Cruz’s retreat comes 16 days into the government shutdown and just a day before the debt ceiling deadline. In some sense, the GOPer’s action makes sense. If the country did default, Cruz certainly wouldn’t want that on his conscious or political record.

“I have no objections to the timing and the reason is simple. There’s nothing to be gained from delaying this vote one day or two days. The outcome will be the same. Every senator, every member of the House is going to have to make a decision where he or she stands. But there’s no benefit. I have never had any intention of delaying” the vote, he said. 

Still, the firebrand conservative commended what he saw as the House taking a “bold stance listening to the American people.” Cruz also ripped his Senate colleagues for purportedly taking “the traditional approach of the Washington establishment of maintaining the status quo and doing nothing to respond to the suffering that Obamacare is causing millions of Americans.” 

It is worth restating: Obamacare may well be flawed, and has critics on the left and right. But it is a health insurance program that will ensure coverage for tens of millions of Americans who might otherwise have gone without medical care – or been bankrupted by it.

Cruz also hailed Republicans’ recent hostage taking as a “remarkable victory to see the House engage in a profile in courage.”

While the GOPer –who many suspect of harboring presidential ambitions – has gained strong support from a hard right faction in his party, he’s also been saddled with an unwelcome notoriety among mainstream and level-headed Americans after quixotically holding up the negotiations. Even members of his own party have criticized him for trying to tie Obamacare to the talks. His national popularity has sunk. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed Cruz with a meager 14% approval rating.

Even his hometown paper, The Houston Chronicle, says it regrets endorsing him in an editorial titled “Why we miss Kay Bailey Hutchinson.”

“When we endorsed Ted Cruz in last November’s general election, we did so with many reservations and at least one specific recommendation–that he follow Hutchison’s example in his conduct as a senator. Obviously, he has not done so. Cruz has been part of the problem in specific situations where Hutchison would have been part of the solution. We feel certain she would have worked shoulder to shoulder with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in crafting a workable solution that likely would have avoided the government shutdown altogether. But we’ll never know.”

Senate leaders have tentatively reached a bipartisan agreement to end the shutdown and avert default on the nation’s debt. It will now be advanced through both the House and the Senate.

The plan calls for funding the government through mid-January and extending the debt limit through early February – a victory for President Obama and Dems who promised not to negotiate over basic government operations or playing with the credibility of the U.S. debt. It also locks in reduced spending levels established under automatic spending cuts known as the sequester – a small but real win for Republicans.