Ted Cruz: Blackmailer

September 27th, 2013

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On October 28, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and his supporters may wish to commemorate the feast day of Saint Jude. Jude is the patron saint of hopeless causes. Because if ever there were a hopeless cause, it is killing the Affordable Care Act.

Fighting for hopeless causes is not uncommon in politics. Think of the nearly two centuries it took to abolish slavery and segregation in the United States. Fighting for a hopeless cause can raise public consciousness about an issue and advance the career of the advocate. But it has to be seen as a noble effort. Sen. Cruz’s effort is anything but noble.

Defunding Obamacare is hopeless because the numbers aren’t there. Even if a bill were somehow to get through the House and Senate, President Obama has promised to veto it. It takes a two thirds majority of both houses of Congress to override a presidential veto. Republicans are not even close.

“Tactics and strategies ought to be based on what the real world is, and we don’t have the political power to do this,” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said on CBS News Face the Nation. Sen. Cruz admitted as much in July when he told a group of libertarian students, “Right now, we don’t have the votes. We don’t have the votes in the House. We don’t have the votes in the Senate. I’m going to be perfectly candid. We can’t win this fight. No Washington politician can win this fight.”

So what was he doing speaking for more than 21 hours on the Senate floor calling on his colleagues to defund the policy? Sen. Cruz went on to tell the students in July, “The only way we win this fight is if the American people rise up in overwhelming numbers and demand our elected officials to do the right thing and stand for principle.” He’s trying to start a bandwagon!

There is no evidence he is succeeding. True, Obamacare is not popular. In last week’s New York Times-CBS News poll, Americans said they disapprove of the Affordable Care Act, 51 to 39 percent. But by 56 to 38 percent, the public said Congress should “uphold the law and make it work as well as possible,” rather than “try to stop the law from being put into place by cutting off funding to implement it.”

Cruz’s tactics are the problem. He and his allies are holding the federal budget hostage. If they don’t get their way, they’re threatening to shut down the federal government. That angers his fellow Republicans who fear they will get the blame for a government shutdown. Meanwhile, Obamacare will still be law.

Cruz’s colleagues see the effort as futile and self-serving, damaging the Republican brand in order to advance Sen. Cruz’s 2016 presidential prospects. Cruz has returned fire, blasting his critics as “defeatists” who belong to the “surrender caucus.” He even compared them to those who tried to appease Adolph Hitler in the 1930s. Yikes! Was Cruz comparing supporters of Obamacare to Nazis?

Sen. Cruz may have been thinking about another Texas politician who captured attention by fighting for a hopeless cause. That was Democratic state Senator Wendy Davis, who in June, delivered an 11-hour filibuster on the floor of the Texas legislature. Davis was trying to stop a bill that placed burdensome restrictions on abortions in Texas.

Her cause was hopeless because Republicans hold a solid majority in the Texas State Senate. Davis did succeed in stopping a vote before the special session of the state legislature expired. But then Republican Gov. Rick Perry called the legislature back for a second special session, where the anti-abortion bill was promptly passed.

Davis’s filibuster made her a hero to Democrats around the country, and they responded by contributing handsomely to her campaign fund. She has indicated that she intends to run for governor of Texas next year. The pink tennis shoes she wore during her filibuster have become iconic. Interestingly, Sen. Cruz made a point of exchanging his usual cowboy boots for black tennis shoes when he delivered his marathon speech.

While both causes — stopping the Texas abortion restrictions and defunding Obamacare — are hopeless, Sen. Davis’s filibuster did nothing to make the situation worse. The Texas abortion restrictions would have passed in any case. What she did was raise public consciousness of the restrictions and enhance her national stature as a champion of women’s rights. Sen. Cruz’s tactics, on the other hand, run the risk of causing serious problems. He and his supporters could force the federal government to shut down or default on its obligations, which might lead to a worldwide financial crisis. Meanwhile, Obamacare will still be law.

Fighting for a hopeless cause is not a bad thing. It can do wonders for your career, and it can raise public awareness. Sen. Rand Paul did that when he staged an 11-hour filibuster in March to protest drone attacks against suspected terrorists in the U.S. Sen. Paul helped turn public opinion against secretive U.S. government surveillance activities.

What Sen. Cruz is doing is different. He’s saying, “Either I get my way on defunding Obamacare, or I will do great damage to the country.” That’s not fighting for a hopeless cause. That’s blackmail.

This piece was originally published via Reuters.