Love him or hate him, Cruz stirs up po­lit­i­cal pas­sion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

For Democrats, it’s sim­ple: Sen. Ted Cruz is the face of the gov­ern­ment shut­down and just about ev­ery­thing that is wrong with Wash­ing­ton. Repub­li­cans, though, aren’t sure: The se­na­tor from Texas is ei­ther the best — or the worst — thing to hap­pen to the party in years.

The fresh­man law­maker’s Demo­cratic col­leagues in the Se­nate have called Mr. Cruz a school­yard bully, an an­ar­chist and a pup­pet mas­ter of mis­guided law­mak­ers in the on­go­ing spend­ing stale­mate.

The anti-Cruz rhetoric grew so heated last week that Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid apol­o­gized for his nasty tone on the Se­nate floor af­ter Repub­li­cans ac­cused the Ne­vada Demo­crat of vi­o­lat­ing the “spirit” of deco­rum in the up­per cham­ber.

Since ar­riv­ing in Wash­ing­ton this year, Mr. Cruz, a for­mer de­bate cham­pion at Prince­ton, has be­come the most vis­i­ble and the most vo­cal op­po­nent of Pres­i­dent Obama’s Af­ford­able Care Act, warn­ing in floor speeches, tele­vi­sion and ra­dio ap­pear­ances and closed-door Repub­li­can meet­ings that the 2010 law will have a cat­a­strophic ef­fect on the na­tion.

“What the Amer­i­can peo­ple want is they want our gov­ern­ment funded and they want to stop the harms from Oba­macare,” Mr. Cruz said Sun­day on CNN. “Oba­macare is hurt­ing mil­lions of peo­ple. It’s killing their jobs. It’s forc­ing them into part-time work. It’s driv­ing up health insurance premi­ums. And it’s caus­ing mil­lions of Amer­i­cans to lose or risk los­ing their health insurance.”

Mr. Cruz’s un­re­lent­ing, hard-nosed style has ral­lied tea par­ty­ers and grass-roots con­ser­va­tives to his ban­ner.

A Pub­lic Pol­icy Polling sur­vey found that Mr. Cruz has leapfrogged past the likes of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen.

“I think the pos­i­tive is that [Sen. Ted Cruz] has brought a lot of at­ten­tion to the is­sue. The neg­a­tive is that he stepped on some toes in the process. But as the old say­ing goes, in or­der to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs.”

Rand Paul of Ken­tucky to be­come the top pick of Repub­li­can pri­mary vot­ers in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion race.

Mr. Cruz, though, also has ticked off Repub­li­cans who say the Texan’s ef­forts are fu­eled as much by his per­sonal po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions as they are by any de­sire to ex­pand the party or fos­ter good gov­er­nance.

They also say his strat­egy to de­fund Oba­macare is doomed to fail and is tar­nish­ing the Repub­li­can brand.

In­deed, polls show that most Amer­i­cans dis­ap­prove of the Af­ford­able Care Act — but they don’t sup­port wrap­ping Oba­macare into the fight over fund­ing for other gov­ern­ment op­er­a­tions, as has hap­pened in the week-old shut­down.

Polls also show that more Amer­i­cans blame Repub­li­cans for the im­passe and that tea par­ty­ers, who now hold up Mr. Cruz as a po­lit­i­cal sav­ior, back the shut­down, while the ma­jor­ity of the elec­torate — Democrats, in­de­pen­dents and Repub­li­cans — do not.

“What I hope that doesn’t hap­pen is that with all this fo­cus on this shiny ob­ject that was never go­ing to hap­pen, that we have taken our eye off the thing that is usu­ally ne­go­ti­ated around the debt ceil­ing: that is re­forms and re­duc­tions in spend­ing so we don’t have fu­ture deficits at the level we are now hav­ing them,” said Sen. Bob Corker, Ten­nessee Repub­li­can.

Mr. Corker clashed with Mr. Cruz last month on the Se­nate floor, ac­cus­ing the Texan of be­ing more in­ter­ested in rais­ing his na­tional pro­file than work­ing to­ward a deal to pre­vent a shut­down.

Mr. Cruz also got an ear­ful last week from his Repub­li­can col­leagues dur­ing a closed-door meet­ing in which Sen. Kelly Ay­otte of New Hamp­shire re­port­edly crit­i­cized Mr. Cruz for stick­ing with out­side con­ser­va­tive groups that are at­tack­ing Se­nate Repub­li­cans for not em­brac­ing the no-holds-barred ap­proach to de­fund­ing Oba­macare.

Mr. Cruz has said that he is sim­ply lis­ten­ing to vot­ers and fol­low­ing through on a top prom­ise he made on the cam­paign trail last year.

Along those lines, he joined for­mer Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who now runs the con­ser­va­tive Her­itage Foun­da­tion, at anti-Oba­macare town-hall meet­ings over the sum­mer that were meant to ramp up pres­sure on law­mak­ers of all stripes to join the fight — or else.

Mr. Cruz fol­lowed up last month with a 21-hour fil­i­buster against a Se­nate mea­sure that in­cluded Oba­macare fund­ing, telling fel­low Repub­li­cans that any­one who al­lowed the res­o­lu­tion to move for­ward would be vot­ing to “fully fund Oba­macare.”

The ef­fort failed to move the nee­dle in the Se­nate, but it did in­ject some en­ergy into House Repub­li­can ef­forts to put the brakes on the health care law.

The House has stonewalled a Se­nate bill that would fund all gov­ern­ment op­er­a­tions and Oba­macare through Nov. 15, which Democrats say would give both par­ties a chance to work out their dif­fer­ences.

Over the past week, the House has pushed in­di­vid­ual bills to fund spe­cific gov­ern­ment pro­grams, in­clud­ing Vet­er­ans Af­fairs and mu­se­ums, while de­mand­ing that Democrats ac­cept a one-year de­lay of Oba­macare’s in­di­vid­ual man­date.

As much as Mr. Cruz says the fight is not about him, his own mes­sag­ing at times seems to con­tra­dict that.

Last week, he took to the floor of the Se­nate to call on the cham­ber to act on the House bills, a day af­ter Se­nate Repub­li­can lead­ers made the same re­quest.

Both ini­tia­tives failed and the Cruz ef­fort fed into lin­ger­ing Repub­li­can con­cerns that Mr. Cruz’s strat­egy is mis­guided. Mr. Reid pointed out that Rep. Devin Nunes, a Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can, said House Repub­li­cans were wait­ing for Mr. Cruz to ex­plain the next move now that “he’s the one that got us into this mess.”

Other Repub­li­cans are more re­luc­tant to weigh in on the Cruz ef­fect. Last week, Rep. Michael K. Simp­son of Idaho laughed and sug­gested he was bet­ter off keep­ing his thoughts to him­self be­fore slip­ping into the House cham­ber for a vote.

Still, Mr. Cruz has his fol­low­ers, most no­tably among House Repub­li­cans who are call­ing on Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio to in­sist that Oba­macare does not get off the ground.

“I think he has been a huge as­set,” said Rep. John Flem­ing, Louisiana Repub­li­can. “He’s been a ral­ly­ing force. I think he has been a uni­fy­ing force and has been an en­er­giz­ing force. I think he has had a huge pos­i­tive im­pact.”

Rep. H. Mor­gan Grif­fith, Vir­ginia Repub­li­can, said Mr. Cruz’s in­flu­ence has been good and bad.

“I think the pos­i­tive is that he has brought a lot of at­ten­tion to the is­sue,” Mr. Griffth said. “The neg­a­tive is that he stepped on some toes in the process. But as the old say­ing goes, in or­der to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs.”

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