Senator Ted Cruz is a hero in some Republican circles — and the opposite among many of his Senate Republican colleagues.
At this crucial juncture in the history of America, internal battles within the only party that can turn things around are the last thing Americans need. Moreover, each side in this political civil war has all too many valid criticisms of the other.
The Republican establishment’s criticisms of Senator Cruz are criticisms of his rule-or-ruin strategy, which can destroy whatever chance Republicans have of taking back the Senate in 2014 and taking back the White House in 2016. And, without political power, there is no real hope of changing things in Washington.
Senator Cruz’s filibuster last year got the Republicans blamed for shutting down the government — and his threatened filibuster this year forced several Republican Senators to jeopardize their own reelection prospects by voting to impose cloture, to prevent Cruz from repeating his self-serving grandstand play of last year. The Republicans need every vote they can get in the Senate — plus additional votes by defeating some Democrats who are running for the Senate this fall. It can be a very close call. Jeopardizing the reelection of current Republican Senators is an act of utter irresponsibility, a high risk with zero benefits to anyone except Ted Cruz — and the Democrats.
However unjustified Senator Cruz’s actions, the very fact that a freshman Senator can so quickly gain so many supporters, with somuch enthusiasm, ought to be a loud warning to the Republican establishment that they have long been a huge disappointment to a wide range of Republican voters and supporters.
One of their most maddening qualities has for decades been their can’t-be-bothered attitude when it comes to explaining their positions to the American people in language people can understand. A classic example was Speaker of the House John Boehner’s performance when he emerged from a meeting at the White House a while back. There, with masses of television news cameras pointed at him, and a bank of microphones crowded together, he simply expressed his disgust at the Obama administration, turned and walked on away.
Here was a golden opportunity to cut through the Obama administration rhetoric and set the record straight on the issues at hand. But apparently Speaker Boehner couldn’t be bothered to have a prepared, and previously thought out, statement to present, conveying something more than his disgust.
Unfortunately, Speaker Boehner is just the latest in a long line of Republican “leaders” with the same disregard of the need to explain their position in plain English.
That takes work. But it is work that any number of conservative commentators on radio and television do every day of the week. And they are very successful in getting across arguments that Republican politicians do not bother to try to get across.
Democrats are constantly articulating their talking points. Less than 24 hours elapsed after the Congressional Budget Office reported that ObamaCare was likely to cause many workers to have their hours cut back, before Democrats were all talking about the “freedom” this would give workers to pursue other interests, rather than being “locked-in” to long hours on a full-time job.
It was a slick and dishonest argument, but the point here is that Democrats immediately saw the need for articulation — and for all of them to use the same words and phrases, so as to establish their argument by sheer repetition.
Nor was this the first time that Democrats coordinated their words and phrases. A few years ago, Senator Chuck Schumer was secretly recorded giving fellow Democrats the word to use whenever describing Republicans — namely, “extreme.”
When George W. Bush first ran for president in 2000, the word among Democrats was that he lacked “gravitas.” People who had never used that word in years were suddenly saying “gravitas” 24/7.
The Republican establishment has more than a tactical deficiency, however. They seem to have no principle that they offer or follow with any consistency. Their lack of articulation may be just a reflection of that lack of principle. It is hard to get to the point when you have no point to get to.
Ted Cruz filled a void. But the Republican establishment created the void.
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.