WASHINGTON — Two things are often said in this town: “A day is a year in politics.” And, “It’s all about 2014.”
Combined, the two statements mean that much can happen between now and the midterm elections next year when Republicans hope to hold the House and gain the Senate — and Democrats intend to hold the Senate and recover the House.
Each respective goal is equally possible depending on the same single significant determinant: Whether Ted Cruz stops talking.
While that thought settles in, we pause to note that right now, the idea that Republicans could convince anyone that they should be allowed to deliver milk, much less hold the nation’s purse strings, seems remote.
But things do change quickly around here. With the debt crisis postponed and the government up and running again — faith in the efficiency of which underscores how dire our political straits — most Americans will settle into the season’s serial holiday distractions and move right along.
Nothing to see here. Even the barricades are gone.
As all know, the fixes recently applied are temporary and the new year brings fresh problems: implementation of Obamacare and our gluttonous debt, just to name a couple.
Tax and entitlement reform were the real targets for House Speaker John Boehner, who tried in vain to convince his colleagues that they’d have greater leverage during debt-ceiling negotiations. Instead, the tea party insurrectionists in the House, incited by Cruz, opted to defund Obamacare, a doomed effort from the start. Farewell leverage.
This is history now. What lies ahead is the GOP’s internal struggle to determine which wing of the party prevails. And which wing prevails likely will determine the balance of power come 2014. Suffice to say, if Cruz’s voice drowns out the so-called establishment voices, Republicans may as well start investing in camels. The desert awaits.
The House may be less problematic because many Republicans, thanks to gerrymandering, are secure in their conservative districts. The Senate poses greater challenges, but the National Republican Senatorial Committee has been busy recruiting and training candidates who can bridge the gap and win both primaries and general elections, especially focusing on states where Democrats either are vulnerable (Arkansas) or are retiring (South Dakota, Montana and West Virginia).
This is where Cruz re-enters the picture. Extreme voices may win primaries, but they do not win statewide elections, especially in a nation where a majority self-identify as centrist. This is a lesson Republicans have learned before but that stubborn factions, who would rather tether themselves to a flagpole than run the flag across a finish line, seem unable or unwilling to embrace.
Think back to 2010 and Delaware’s Christine “I’m Not A Witch” O’Donnell and Nevada’s Sharron “Some Latinos Look More Asian To Me” Angle. And then, who can forget 2012’s stars: Richard Mourdock, who explained that rape pregnancies are gifts from God, and Todd Akin, who explored the nuances of “legitimate rape.”
Cruz comes off as smarter than all of the above combined. There’s a reason so many outside the Beltway admire him. To those who feel jilted by the system and insulted by critics, he is a vision of palm trees, dates and fountains. He articulates what they think and feel and, as a bonus, he’s got that Latino thing.
But Cruz is a mirage, an idea conjured in a fantasy that can’t be realized in reality. Like many successful politicians (and narcissists), he reflects back to others their own projected needs and desires. But then reality sets in — the debt crisis deadline looms or the defunding ruse is exposed as theater — and only dust and dung remain among the shards of mirrored glass.
To the most important point, the crux of Cruz: The only person who loves Ted Cruz more than Ted Cruz is Barack Obama. It is the White House and Democrats, not Republicans, who have advanced the idea that Cruz is the face of the GOP. Remember when the White House insisted that Rush Limbaugh was the leader of the GOP? These narratives are useful to Democrats because they loonify the GOP, driving voters away from their fiery rhetoric just as intense heat repels any sensible mammal.
Cruz and Co. were more useful than Democrats could have hoped for as Obamacare limped out of the starting gate. One can bet that the greater the “glitches,” the bigger the megaphone for Cruz — the useful genius.
The only hope for Republicans going forward is that Cruz resists the allure of his own voice.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group.