Ted Cruz filibuster: Was it consequential or hot air?

Ted Cruz didn't stop the Senate from opening debate on the House spending bill or stripping out the defunding of Obamacare. But, while burning bridges with the GOP establishment he became a folk hero for the party right.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas talks to reporters as he emerges from the Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept 25, 2013, after his overnight crusade railing against the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as 'Obamacare.'

Ted Cruz’s 21-hour talkathon is now history. It didn’t stop the Senate from opening debate on a House-passed bill to keep the government open past Monday. Senators almost certainly will vote to strip out a provision in that bill that would defund Obamacare. That’s what Cruz said he wanted to prevent, so did he really accomplish anything with his sort-of-filibuster?

Yes. He accomplished a lot.

First, the obvious: the freshman Texas senator has made himself a folk hero for the Republican right. He went onto the Senate floor a contender for the crown of tea party favorite. He came back a star. As we wrote yesterday it’s now possible he’s bested Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and other contenders to become the leader of grassroots GOP conservatives, at least for the moment.

Second, he proved he’s no Sarah Palin. Though he was spelled by a few Senate allies, Cruz carried the bulk of the talkathon himself. Whatever you think of his politics, it’s hard to deny that he was articulate, dramatic, even entertaining at times as he discussed everything from his love for White Castle hamburgers to “Star Wars.” Palin and Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R) of Minnesota, another tea party favorite, are both much better at prepared remarks than extemporaneous speech. Can you imagine Palin speaking in pearly prose for almost a day?

“The freshman Republican senator’s 21-hour pseudo-filibuster was an immensely stylish endurance stunt – a feat made all the more impressive by the rhetorical fluency that did not flag,” writes right-leaning commentator John Podhoretz in the New York Post.

Third and last, Cruz burned his bridges with much of the Washington establishment Republican Party, then took the ashes and buried them and dumped more dirt on top.

As many commentators have noted, Cruz’s target in his Tuesday-to-Wednesday chin wag was as much the Republican Party as Democrats. He lambasted “symbolic” votes against Obamacare while hitting those in the GOP who accept the inevitability of Obamacare implementation as akin to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and others who tried to appease Hitler prior to World War II.

Republican Senate leaders have been exasperated with Cruz for weeks, considering him a publicity-hungry freelancer whose efforts to court the conservative grassroots could damage the party with the US electorate as a whole.

“Ted Cruz is testing the consequences of ticking off everyone in Washington all of the time,” writes Alexander Burns in Politico today.

What will Cruz do next? He’s thrilled the GOP base with his willingness to confront adversaries, as did Newt Gingrich in the 2012 primary campaign. But Gingrich lost, as did fellow insurgent candidates Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachmann, et al. Actually winning the nomination in 2016 may require reconstruction of some of those burned bridges – or a tea party takeover of the GOP.

“Win or lose, the battle is now joined: First the struggle for the GOP and then the battle for control of Congress and the presidency,” writes Michael Walsh in a pro-Cruz, anti-establishment National Review Online piece.

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