Ted Cruz filibuster: Is Cruz now 'president' of US conservatives?

The many hours Ted Cruz & friends spent in their overnight talkathon (not really a filibuster) in the Senate thrilled conservatives who feel the GOP establishment consists of careerist sell-outs.

In an image made from the C-Span broadcast Senator Ted Cruz continues to speak on the floor of the US Senate, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013.

Is Ted Cruz now the leader of US conservatives? That’s a fair question in the wake of his lengthy overnight talkathon against Obamacare on the Senate floor.

Texas Senator Cruz, along with Sen. Mike Lee (R) of Utah and assorted allies, spoke for some 21 hours before ending at noon Wednesday. That constitutes one of the longest Senate speeches since record-keeping began in 1900, and it has thrilled those on the right who feel the Republican Party establishment consists of careerist sell-outs.

“Ted Cruz and Mike Lee will not get the forty-one votes they need to sustain their filibuster. They will be betrayed by Republican senators who are willing to fund Obamacare while claiming to vote against it. But in this filibuster and in their brilliant strategy, they have exposed Republicans who will not fight,” wrote influential conservative pundit Erick Erickson on RedState Wednesday.

Technically speaking, Cruz, Lee, et al were not filibustering. They were merely holding the floor in advance of a scheduled cloture vote Wednesday on a government spending bill that contains a provision defunding Obamacare. But that’ s a procedural distinction that’s probably lost on most voters. They see a tired lawmaker who has referenced Star Wars, Dr. Seuss, White Castle hamburgers, and his choice of footwear, and figure he’s doing the same thing that Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky did in March when he conducted an actual filibuster against Obama administration drone policies.

More on Senator Paul in a moment.

But first, Cruz’s targets: many of his words weren’t aimed at Obamacare, or even Democrats, but the notional leaders of his own party.

Cruz complained about “fake” votes – a veiled reference to House Speaker John Boehner’s attempts to fund the government while holding largely symbolic Obamacare votes. More pointedly, he kept saying that those who did not stand with him in opposing the cloture vote on the government spending bill now before the Senate were in essence supporting full funding of the president’s signature health-reform law. He wondered aloud why more Republicans weren’t standing with him.

“Cruz’s speech then is rightly understood as an indictment of his own party, a party unwilling – in the Texas senator’s mind – to stand on principle when the moment requires it,” write Washington Post political experts Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan on The Fix.

This may have implications for 2016 – Cruz needs a base of political support if he’s going to run for the presidential nomination. But that’s still a ways off. More immediate is the jockeying for the title of “political leader of American conservatism,” notes New York Times columnist Ross Douthat.

That’s a title – call it the “president of the right” – that has a long history in GOP politics, stretching back to Sens. Robert Taft of Ohio and Barry Goldwater of Arizona. Right now contenders include Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul, as well as Cruz.

But Senator Rubio has been damaged by his push for immigration reform, which many conservatives oppose. Paul won plaudits from libertarians and some liberals for his stand against drones, but hawkish Republicans support the administration’s armed drone strike policies.

Cruz, on the other hand, is champion of a position that unites the right. He’s the darling of conservative talk radio at the moment.

“That’s the case for betting on Cruz’s continued ascent,” writes Douthat.

But what happens next? Cruz has risen on the promise that he’ll fight for his positions. But one reason the establishment GOP has shrugged at his efforts to defund Obamacare is that they can count, and they see that there is virtually no chance of getting that through the Senate, and no chance, period, of convincing President Obama to sign a bill gutting his biggest domestic achievement.

Cruz is whipping the base into a frenzy for a battle they are foreordained to lose, writes David Freddoso at Conservative Intelligence Briefing.

“The illusory promise of an easy shortcut to beating Obamacare will leave a bitter aftertaste, resulting in anger, a loss of trust, and even withdrawal from the political process,” writes Freddoso.

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