By Markos Moulitsas - 09/24/13 10:11 PM EDT
While the prospect of a government shutdown and national default tempers the mood, it’s hard not to laugh at the train wreck that is the GOP’s congressional delegation.
On one side of Capitol Hill we have Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerHouse GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief fears sequestration's return MORE (R-Ohio), perhaps the weakest Speaker ever. Not only has he ceded control of his chamber to a minority Tea Party caucus, but that caucus is being puppeteered by one senator, and a freshman backbencher at that — Texas Republican Ted CruzTed CruzMcConnell: Trump White House will have ‘constraints’ Cruz holds back support for Trump with eye on abortion Trump takes victory lap over rivals' remarks MORE.
The American public certainly isn’t interested; just 19 percent of respondents support shutting down the government and defaulting on our national debt in order to force defunding, according to a CNBC poll released Monday. Yet BoehnerJohn BoehnerHouse GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief fears sequestration's return MORE was forced by Cruz into adding the unpopular defunding provision in the recently passed House budget.
Then we have Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellMcConnell: Trump White House will have ‘constraints’ Nearly 400 House bills stuck in Senate limbo McConnell-allied group: We'll back Rubio if he runs for reelection MORE (R-Ky.), who is too electorally endangered to do much of anything, ceding his caucus leadership to the boisterous Cruz. McConnell’s reelection prospects might already be dim, but they would cease to exist if he were to do anything to counterbalance the lunacy from his Tea Party caucus. He’s been rendered mute in this debate, afraid to actually do his job.
It’s this leadership void that Cruz has filled, and it’s clear that he fancies himself in charge. This weekend he was demanding that Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidNearly 400 House bills stuck in Senate limbo Puerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate McCain files B amendment to boost defense spending MORE (D-Nev.) change regular Senate procedures to make it easier to vote for defunding. And as if trying to run the Senate isn’t enough, he’s continuing to bark orders at the House after he forced them to pass his defunding scheme, demanding that it “hold its ground and start passing smaller resolutions one department at a time.”
Key Republicans are still grousing about that House “victory,” responding with open resentment and recriminations. “Cruz keeps raising conservatives’ hopes, and then, when we give him what he wants, he doesn’t have a plan to follow through,” one congressional aide complained to the conservative National Review. “He’s an amateur.”
GOP Rep. Peter King of New York accused Cruz of perpetrating a “fraud against the American people” by convincing them ObamaCare could be defunded. Sen. Bob CorkerBob CorkerRubio: 'Maybe' would run for Senate seat if 'good friend' wasn't McConnell-allied group: We'll back Rubio if he runs for reelection The Trail 2016: Interleague play MORE (R-Tenn.) played the elitism card against Cruz, tweeting, “I didn’t go to Harvard or Princeton, but I can count — the defunding box canyon is a tactic that will fail and weaken our position.” Even staunch ally Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulOvernight Energy: Trump outlines 'America First' energy plan in North Dakota Overnight Regulation: GOP slams new Obama education rules Paul blocks chemical safety bill in Senate MORE (R-Ky.) has taken a low profile in this battle, saying that “it’s not a good idea to shut down the government.”
Cruz is equally contemptuous of his critics — and, in fact, his party — saying back in May, “Let me be clear, I don’t trust the Republicans.” He followed that up last week by saying how “embarrassed” he was to have voted GOP in 2008. All this from a guy who supposedly is a co-chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
With recriminations flowing both ways, Cruz is alone and isolated in the Capitol, with only his faithful puppy dog Sen. Mike LeeMike LeeOvernight Cybersecurity: Guccifer plea deal raises questions in Clinton probe Senate panel delays email privacy vote amid concerns Senate amendments could sink email privacy compromise MORE of Utah (R) to keep him company. But with millions of rank-and-file conservatives and their media rallying to his anti-GOP cause, he has every reason to stay emboldened and on course, wreaking havoc within his own party as he positions himself for that inevitable 2016 presidential run.
Moulitsas is the founder and publisher of Daily Kos.