RINOcracy.com has not always been an unalloyed admirer of Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Nevertheless, credit must be given where credit is due, although being named a RINO Hero is probably an honor that neither would relish. In any case, both gentlemen deserve credit for acting with skill and courage to avoid a “crisis” over the increase in the debt ceiling. As RINOcracy.com had previously noted, the increase in the debt ceiling was inevitable, but it was not at all clear that it would be accomplished with a minimum of embarrassment to Congressional Republicans. Moreover, as events unfolded, the seemingly irrepressible Ted Cruz did his best to create that embarrassment.
Boehner’s announcement of his intention to bring a “clean” debt increase bill to the House floor for a vote was received by the Republican caucus with stunned silence. Only after prodding by Boehner (“I’m getting this monkey off your back, and you’re not going to even clap?”) did he receive applause that was described as “grudging and modest.” In the actual vote, only 27 Republicans joined with Boehner and 193 Democrats to pass the bill. We will list their names as deserving at least Honorable Mention:
As a matter of geo-politics, it may be noted that all of the Republicans, including Boehner, who voted for the debt ceiling increase come from states that voted for Obama in 2012. As such, they are not immune from primary challenges, but may be less vulnerable to them. It should further be noted, as a matter of fairness, that not all of the Republicans who voted “no” were acting irresponsibly. After it appeared that the bill would pass, a no vote was harmless but provided some protection against attack from the right in their home districts.
Boehner’s action predictably aroused the immediate furies of the Tea Party. For reasons that are entirely unknown, we receive the email newsletter of the Tea Party Patriots, and the following excerpt from February 12, reflects their mood:
Yesterday, Speaker of the House John Boehner allowed the House to pass a clean bill to raise the debt limit. Clearly, Boehner is no longer willing to stand up and fight for fiscal restraint and common sense. Three years ago, Boehner promised the debt limit would not be raised unless it was accompanied by significant spending cuts. Now, he’s either given up, or he no longer cares about the budget deficit and the financial future of this country.
“A clean debt ceiling is a complete capitulation on the Speaker’s part and demonstrates that he has lost the ability to lead the House of Representatives, let alone his own party,” said Tea Party Patriots Co-Founder Jenny Beth Martin. It’s time to show Boehner that he’s caved to Obama and the Democrats for the last time and we need your help to send him a message!
Please call Speaker Boehner’s office NOW at (855) 248-1559 and tell him we can’t afford his leadership anymore and he should resign as Speaker! Also, visit firethespeaker.com to sign our petition to fire the Speaker!
In the Senate, Mitch McConnell also had a tricky hand to play, a hand made more difficult by the fact that in his home state he is facing a well-publicized and well-funded primary challenge by an opponent backed by Tea Party, Matt Bevin. Bevin is also supported by, among others, the Senate Conservatives Fund, founded by former Senator Jim DeMint and run by several of his former aides.
When the House bill reached the Senate, Senator Ted Cruz attempted to organize a filibuster. It is obvious that his only motive was self-promotion. As The Wall Street Journal tartly noted:
We’re all for holding politicians accountable with votes on substantive issues, but Mr. Cruz knew he couldn’t stop a debt increase the House had already passed. He also had no alternative strategy if the bill had failed, other than to shut down the government again, take public attention away from ObamaCare, and make Republicans even more unpopular.
Mercifully, Cruz was thwarted when McConnell and Minority Whip, John Cornyn, rounded up enough votes to join the Democrats in imposing cloture, 67-31. The eleven Republicans who stood with McConnell were:
Unlike the pattern in the House, all of the listed Senators except Collins and Kirk are from states won by Mitt Romney in 2012. Only Collins and Cornyn, however, are seeking re-election in 2014 and have primary challengers. (The motion on cloture provided the dispositive vote by allowing the bill to proceed. Opposing the bill itself was purely symbolic and with all Republicans present voting against it, it passed 55-43.)
While McConnell has sometimes managed to avoid difficult votes, this one put him squarely in the cross-hairs of his rightwing antagonists. As an Associated Press story reported:
The tea party is teeing off on Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Matt Bevin, who is challenging McConnell in the GOP primary in Kentucky, seized on the senator’s vote Wednesday to move ahead on legislation to increase the nation’s debt limit, describing it as a blank check for President Barack Obama. The tea party-backed businessman and conservative groups signaled they won’t let Senate Republican incumbents forget the vote this election year.
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Conservative groups railed against McConnell. “Americans deserve better than fake leaders who make empty promises and deliver zero results. It’s time to dump the leadership,” said Brent Bozell, chairman of the conservative group ForAmerica.
McConnell had already been targeted by the Tea Party Patriots and will doubtless come under further fire at their “Five Year Anniversary Event” in Washington, D.C. On February 27.
The good news is that the sleeping elephant of the GOP has awakened to the reality that the energy the Tea Party generated for it came with a price, and that in many cases the price may be too high. A February 9, 2014 article in The New York Times reported on a growing determination to rein in the Tea Party and to oppose primary candidates whose extreme positions are likely to be a fatal liability in a general election:
The establishment, chastened by the realization that a string of unpredictable and unseasoned candidates cost them seats in Congress two elections in a row, is trying to head off potential political hazards wherever it can this year.
In House and Senate races across the country, many of the traditional and influential centers of power within the party are taking sides in primaries, overwhelming challengers on the right with television ads and, in some cases, retaliating against those who are helping the insurgents.
Dealing with the Tea Party, however, is a problem that is in some respects as delicate as it is difficult. The United States Chamber of Commerce has geared up to participate in primaries to oppose Tea Party insurgents, but Scott Reed, the Chamber’s senior political strategist, has noted that most Republicans share the free market, small-government philosophy that inspired the movement. Indeed, polls show that a substantial percentage of Republicans still have a favorable view of the Tea Party. The problem, as Reed put it, is that “some have hijacked the Tea Party model and taken it to an extreme level.”
It is heartening that the Republican Party may at last be taking action to push back against its more extreme elements. But the challenges presented by the 2014 primaries may be dwarfed if Ted Cruz becomes a Presidential candidate. As Chris Cillizza observed in The Washington Post, Cruz’s abortive filibuster on the debt ceiling made it clearer than ever that he does not have any interest in a long-term career in the Senate. (“This latest gambit by Cruz may well be the most telling because it directly impacts two men [McConnell and Cornyn] who, if Cruz had any thought of sticking around the Senate for any extended period of time, not only could, but would make life very uncomfortable for him.”)
Cruz’s tactic appeared to pay immediate dividends as an exercise in pre-presidential maneuvering. The Hill reported that Cruz would receive a “Hero’s Welcome” in Iowa and New Hampshire:
Conservatives in Iowa and New Hampshire are preparing a hero’s welcome for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) after he showed up Senate Republican leaders during a crucial vote on the debt limit.
Cruz infuriated his Senate Republican colleagues this week when he filibustered a clean bill to raise the debt limit. His objection forced Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and 11 other Republicans to vote with Democrats to advance the legislation.
But in Iowa and New Hampshire, two important presidential primary states, conservative activists are cheering Cruz’s stand and buzzing about a possible presidential run in 2016.
Activists in the two states said they plan to show Cruz their appreciation when he visits in March and April.
As followers of RINOcracy.com are well aware, Senator Cruz is no hero in this space. On the contrary, we think it is none too soon for leaders of the Party to develop a strategy for derailing, or at least containing, his naked ambitions. Failing such a strategy, we fear that the Party may be well and truly Cruzified.