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Ted Cruz's Shutdown Trap -- for Republicans

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Greg Sargent at the Plum Line has a terrific analysis of Ted Cruz's shutdown strategy to combat President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration.

Wait, not so fast! Cruz wants to shut down the government because it’s time to do so; immigration is the excuse. The principle is that all opportunities for blackmail must be exploited; the shutdown, not the ransom, is the point.

Anyway, as I was saying. Greg, building on solid reporting from Byron York at the Washington Examiner, notes that for Cruz and the radicals there is no end-game with a policy win. There’s only, as Greg says, “GOP leadership’s craven unwillingness to see Ted Cruz’s government shutdown strategy through to the end.”

This, however, is perfect for the radicals, too. For them, it’s not about policy gains; it’s about being True Conservatives, which means constantly needing to differentiate themselves from the RINOs and squishes that make up the bulk of the Republican Party. The problem? There are no Rockefeller moderates or liberal Republicans remaining, and very few moderate conservatives, either. On ideal policy preferences, there just isn’t much separating Cruz from, say, Marco Rubio or Scott Walker or John Kasich or Bobby Jindal or even Mike Pence. So to maintain that True Conservative distinction, Cruz and other radicals must constantly find new and more difficult hoops for regular normal conservatives to fail to leap through.

By this standard, the fact that that everyone knows there’s no end-game with a realistic hope of victory is a virtue, not a flaw, in a shutdown confrontation over immigration. Most likely, Republicans won’t go along with Cruz and force a shutdown -- proving that they aren’t True Conservatives. If, however, they do go through with a shutdown showdown (either now, in the spring, next fall, or whenever), it will eventually end with a deal that Obama, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and John House Speaker Boehner will sign off on … thus proving again that only Cruz and his radicals are True Conservatives.

It’s a very obvious trap, but unless solid Republican conservatives can find a way out, it’s going to be sprung again and again.

  1. Yes, on immigration in particular, there are differences among those who call themselves conservatives. But in general, there’s very little to separate “establishment” conservatives from the radicals on policy.

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To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net