For U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, his stunning primary victory a year ago ushered in a “new paradigm in politics – the primacy of the grass roots,” that will receive its toughest test in his new effort to defund the Affordable Care Act at the end of September, or shut the government down trying.
“Under ordinary Washington rules we cannot win, but if the grass roots gets mobilized at historic levels, I believe we can and will win,” Cruz said in an interview in his Washington office Monday, days before the first anniversary of his come-from-behind defeat of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the July 31, 2012, Republican primary runoff to succeed Kay Bailey Hutchison in the Senate.
Of the new paradigm, Cruz said, “it’s a seismic shift, and it’s a shift that frankly makes a lot of longtime politicians very nervous.”
The seven months since he was sworn into office have been, as Cruz described them, “a whirlwind,” sweeping him from obscurity to a special place in the hearts and minds of movement conservatives nationally, onto most lists of credible Republican presidential contenders in 2016 and superseding Gov. Rick Perry in the estimation of Texas Republicans.
It has been a meteoric rise that made Cruz, in short order, the bête noire of Democrats and the bane of more establishment Republicans who, Cruz complains, “paint in pale pastels” when bold strokes and primary colors are what the times demand.
Cruz arrived in Washington with guns blazing – whether it was defending Second Amendment rights in the aftermath of the slaughter at the elementary school in Newtown, Conn., or attacking Chuck Hagel’s fitness to serve as secretary of defense. And Cruz is using the occasion of the first anniversary of his runoff victory to signal that he is locked and loaded for even more furious battles this fall when the Senate returns, Sept. 6, after its August break, which begins Monday.
Cruz’s two top priorities are bumper-sticker simple – defund Obamacare and abolish the Internal Revenue Service – and certain to quicken the pulse of the conservative faithful and raise the blood pressure of many Republican colleagues who find vexing his insinuation that if they don’t follow his lead, they lack the courage of their convictions.
If his improbably decisive 14-point victory over the far better-known and better-funded Dewhurst left Dewhurst – and every other Republican officeholder and office seeker in Texas – looking over their right shoulders, his brief tenure in the Senate is making many Republican colleagues feel like potential Dewhursts.
Of the IRS, Cruz said, its power is “inherently incompatible with individual liberty, and, for that reason, my view is the simplest and best solution is to abolish the IRS and move to a simple flat tax where every American can fill out his or her taxes on a postcard.”
But first comes Cruz’s bid to force a showdown over the Affordable Care Act. It’s his boldest gambit yet, because it depends on him and his handful of Senate allies — which includes potential presidential rivals Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky — being able to marshal the conservative grass roots during the summer break in a manner that will force almost all of their Republican colleagues to go along with a strategy that right now only has the backing of about a dozen of them.
Here is how Cruz describes the game plan he devised along with Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rubio: “On Sept. 30, the continuing resolution that funds the federal government expires. In my view, this presents the single best and possibly the last opportunity we have to actually defund Obamacare. I have publicly pledged that under no circumstances will I vote for a continuing resolution that includes one penny of funding for Obamacare.”
To succeed, Cruz and his allies would need 41 votes in the Senate, enough to block a cloture vote, or 218 votes, a simple majority, in the Republican-led House.
The risk is that Democrats won’t budge on the Affordable Care Act — a safe bet — leading to a government shutdown, in which Republicans might bear the burden of blame.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., has called it, “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.”
“The worst thing is being dishonest with your base about what you can accomplish, ginning everybody up and then creating disappointment,” Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., told Byron York of the Washington Examiner. “The strategy that has been laid out is a good way for Republicans to lose the House.”
Cruz’s GOP Texas colleague, Sen. John Cornyn, the number two Republican in the Senate, signed the letter Lee circulated endorsing the approach, but then withdrew his name.
Cornyn spokeswoman Megan Mitchell explained, “Sen. Cornyn is an ardent opponent of Obamacare and has voted to fully defund and repeal it every time it has come up for a vote. After reviewing the letter, Sen. Cornyn feels the best approach to defund Obamacare is Sen. Cruz’s bill to do so, and he is an original co-sponsor of this bill. If there is a government shutdown, most of Obamacare would still be funded. He wants the entire law defunded, and we can do this without tying it to a full shutdown that would take resources away from our troops and their families.”
In other words, Cornyn, who is up for re-election in 2014, but, so far, doesn’t have a Republican or Democratic challenger, doesn’t think the Obamacare confrontation over the continuing resolution is a good idea, leading Erick Erickson at the prominent conservative blog Redstate.com to write, “John Cornyn has turned into a sad joke.”
“I fundamentally disagree with the premises of that argument,” Cruz said of those suggesting his approach is doomed to failure because most of his Republican colleagues right now are wary.
“That assumes the terrain can’t change,” Cruz said. “If traditional Washington rules apply, this fight cannot be won, and if the only way to prevail is in a closed-door meeting in the Republican cloakroom, we will not succeed.”
But Cruz said it was the power of the grass roots that enabled him to overtake Dewhurst. It was, he said, the grass roots that rallied around Rand Paul’s filibuster — in which Cruz participated — against President Barack Obama’s refusal to absolutely rule out using drones to take out Americans on U.S. soil, and that rallied behind his, Lee’s and Paul’s threat to filibuster any bill that would curb Second Amendment rights, turning the tide, he said, against any new legislation regulating firearms.
If the resort to filibusters, and using the rules of the Senate to block action with only a minority of the votes, sounds familiar, it might be because Democrats in the Texas Senate have employed similar tactics to try work their will, even when they are outnumbered.
And so, the question arises, in his tactical approach, is Ted Cruz the Wendy Davis of Washington?
“I would suggest precisely the opposite” Cruz said of the Fort Worth Democrat whose state Senate filibuster of abortion legislation forced Perry to convene a second special session to get it done.
“Wendy Davis filibustered to force her extreme views in support of abortion, to try to force them contrary to the overwhelming will of Texans,” Cruz said. “What I am working very hard to do here is fight for the principles that are reflected by the overwhelming majority of Americans.”
But, Cruz was asked, isn’t there also support at the grass roots for Obamacare?
Not much, he said: “The grass roots that supports Obamacare is a small and extreme minority.”