U.S. shutdown climbdown: the 'triumph' of the Republican surrender monkeys

Republican flame-throwers like Texas Senator Ted Cruz saw a "remarkable victory" in the Tea Party-inspired government shutdown. Other party members just saw a humiliating defeat that laid their wounds open for all to see, Neil Macdonald writes.

Ted Cruz declares a 'remarkable victory' for the Tea Party-inspired government shutdown, others are not amused

Texas Senator Ted Cruz speaks to reporters outside the Senate chamber on Wednesday while his party leader is expounding inside on a compromise bill designed to end the government shutdown. (Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)

Right-wing critics who fume with contempt at the Main Stream Media for conspiring to silence the conservative viewpoint must by now have discovered a whole new trend.

For the last several weeks, through this entire debt-ceiling-government-shutdown fiasco, the MSM hasn't even been trying to appear balanced. It's been ignoring Democrats, treating them like props.

Poor old Nancy Pelosi, the senior House Democrat, has been holding regular news conferences, surrounded by piously nodding subalterns, spouting her party's line. But she would probably have attracted more attention by yelling out her office window.

Her Senate counterpart, Harry Reid, who actually has some power, hasn't done much better. Even Barack Obama has been struggling for face time on newscasts.

Understand, it's not that reporters have lost their taste for partisan slanging. Quite the opposite.

It's just that Democrats are so boringly predictable and united.

Republicans are WAY more interesting, may the news gods bless them.

Republican politicians have been everywhere, constantly hogging all the MSM's ink and air time, and utterly eclipsing the other party.

The reason is simple: the classic definition of news is man bites dog. This is man bites self. And the frenzied Republican self-biting spectacle of the past few weeks has been a unique event even by the standards of American politics.  

A 'remarkable victory'

Where else but modern America could someone like Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, the Tea Party champion from Texas, accomplish what he just did?

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell: What is said in the caucus room stays in the caucus room. But what is said outside can really hurt. (Charles Dharapak)

This is a man who, having led a spectacularly pointless rebellion against his own party's leadership, declared a "remarkable victory" when the government shutdown clanked and wheezed to its inglorious end Wednesday afternoon.

Not a Pyrrhic victory, mind you. That would imply actually winning something while losing the larger war.

No, Cruz declared victory on behalf of the Tea Party insurgency after winning absolutely nothing.

Obamacare, the Affordable Health Care Act that Cruz and his fellow Tea Partiers set out to destroy, is not only intact, recent polling says it's more popular, or at least much less unpopular than it was before.

In the interim, though, essentially by bullying their way to control of the Republican House caucus, Cruz and the Tea Partiers managed to shut down vast swaths of government, threatened a ruinous default, cost the American economy at least $20 billion, and drove their party's popularity to an all-time low in the opinion polls.

The costs associated with the U.S. partial shutdown in October 2013. (CBC)

And when it was all over, and the courtly Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell rose in the chamber to concede utter defeat on live television, Cruz marched up to the cameras in the hallway outside, effectively interrupting McConnell's speech to denounce him and the entire party establishment as gutless sellouts.

"Unfortunately," declared Cruz, just in case anyone might still be thinking of voting Republican, "once again it appears the Washington establishment is refusing to listen to the American people."

Firing inward

How is any news organization supposed to ignore a feast like that? Even Fox News, which actually has an explicit mission to promote Republican fortunes, couldn't look away.

But there was so much more to this story than Ted Cruz.

There was also Republican congressman Ted Yoho, who until a year ago was a large-animal veterinarian in Florida, patiently explaining in one TV appearance after another that the whole idea of a catastrophic default was just a scare tactic, and that America's creditors would "breathe a sigh of relief" if the Oct. 17 debt-ceiling deadline were to be crossed.

There was House Speaker John Boehner, second (after the vice-president) in line to the presidency and, nominally, the most powerful Republican in Washington, publicly promising one compromise after another.

Then, after being slapped around by Tea Partiers in his caucus, angrily withdrawing one compromise after another and climbing into his chauffeured car, humiliated.

Karl Rove, the neoconservative Bush-era strategist, and the rigorously right-wing Wall Street Journal editorial page, and former Republican presidential candidate John McCain, and a whole range of others in the party firmament publicly called the Tea Party crusade nuts. McCain used the word "shameful."

Grover Norquist, the influential anti-tax activist regarded until now as the far-right Republican's Republican, told the Tea Partiers "you owe your fellow senators and Congressmen a big apology and your constituents as well."

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, another staunch conservative, publicly attacked the Tea Partiers' deep-pocketed private-sector backers, organizations like the billionaire Koch brothers and the Heritage Foundation, calling them "a multiplicity of various groups, some of which aren't even Republicans, but who think they can control the Republican Party."

Republican House Leader John Boehner, shown here heading into Wednesday's compromise vote on the debt ceiling, tried to maintain a united caucus and was humiliated on several occasions for his pains. (Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)

In reply, there were the overt threats from Tea Party activists to ruin the careers of Republicans who disagreed with them, which is to say most Republicans, and the nickname they dreamed up for them: "The surrender caucus."

Ted Cruz clearly considers his home state's senior senator, John Cornyn, to be unworthy of the Republican name; he's publicly refusing to support Cornyn's campaign for re-election.

In essence, Cruz and his supporters consider one of the most trenchantly partisan Republicans in the Senate to be just another surrender monkey.

The fight is only beginning

Looking back, perhaps the most interesting statements came from Republican congresswoman Michele Bachmann, a Tea Party favourite from Minnesota, and Tim Huelskamp, her Kansas colleague (who had earlier accused the Standard and Poor's rating agency of having "made up" its estimate of the billions lost to the economy by the government shutdown).

While most Tea Partiers at least paid lip service to party loyalty, framing caucus colleagues as "the Washington establishment," Huelskamp declared: "They're just like every other Republican. They went home and said they're going to fight Obamacare, then they go into the [Republican] conference every day and whine about the debate and the battle."

Bachmann was even blunter. "It's time to say no to Republicans," she shouted to a crowd of supporters.

And there it is. Like the old Progressive Conservative Party in Canada, Republicans are rupturing along their right flank.

When Tea Partiers say the fight is only beginning, what they mean is they'll either break away or take over their own party.

This is a story that will only keep on giving.

Meanwhile, conservative viewers who can't bear listening to Democrats talk won't have to take refuge in Fox News anymore. They'll find Republicans on every channel, all the time.

About the Author

Neil Macdonald

Opinion Columnist

Neil Macdonald is an opinion columnist for CBC News, based in Ottawa. Prior to that he was the CBC's Washington correspondent for 12 years, and before that he spent five years reporting from the Middle East. He also had a previous career in newspapers, and speaks English and French fluently, and some Arabic.


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