This isn’t a ‘con job,’ but it will leave a bitter taste

Written by . Posted in 2014 Campaigns, 2016 Campaigns, Issue Watch

Published on September 23, 2013

Jonah Goldberg is right to retract his criticism of the “defund” strategy as a “con job.” It’s a needlessly pejorative term when there’s really no reason to ascribe bad motives. For those who accuse Cruz of doing all of this just to advance his personal ambition — well, tell me about any politician with a future who doesn’t use the issues he believes in to advance his personal ambition.

I’d love to think that Rand Paul would have filibustered over drones just out of principle, and maybe he would have, but he surely knew there were political benefits for himself as well. I’d love to think that House Republicans passed a bill giving Obama permission to delay Obamacare’s employer mandate — which he’d already unilaterally (and probably illegally) decided to delay — because they’re concerned about the Constitutional balance of power. And probably they are concerned about that on some level, but they also recognized a nice way of taking a jab at a political opponent.

Jonah puts it very well, though, when he points out that the flip-side of the equation isn’t true — an absence of bad faith doesn’t make a strategy any more viable:

While there’s nothing wrong or even unusual with Cruz seizing an issue – a very worthy issue! — and using it as a vehicle for his political ambitions, doing so doesn’t make his legislative strategy any more compelling, particularly when it appears he didn’t really have one.   The plan all along seems to have been “if we build a movement, the votes will come.” And if the votes don’t come, well we will have this very handy movement as a consolation prize.

There’s one thing, though, that I think Jonah misses. There may be no consolation prize at the end of this — or perhaps whatever prize there is will be badly damaged.

Sure, there are donations being given and and email lists being made, but the inevitable failure of this plan, which Cruz and others have spoken of as a simple task, could poison a lot of wells. The “defund” movement is huge — a big enough deal that House Leadership felt the pressure to change its strategy on the CR. The grassroots are involved. They’re on fire. That’s great.

But when the strategy fails, as it must, do the grassroots just shrug off their enthusiasm and say, “Aw shucks, we’ll get ‘em next time?”

Conservative voters and small-dollar donors aren’t fools. You can’t whip them up into a frenzy, fail them, and then just pat them on the head like it never happened. 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.

Perhaps people will still view Cruz as a hero, and instead take it on the congressmen whom he expected to carry the weight in this whole scheme. Or perhaps they’ll take it out on Cruz himself for promising something he couldn’t deliver. Or perhaps they’ll simply give up. Perhaps they’ll buy into the defeatist arguments of the defundistas, who are claiming (inaccurately) that the whole Obamacare war will already have been lost when this fails because no entitlement has ever been repealed once enacted.

I don’t know who will bear the blame. But it’s not hard to see why bona fide conservative lawmakers, including people who have previously jeopardized their careers by sticking it in the eye of the leadership and the GOP establishment, are unhappy about this situation right now.