Given his Cuban-American background, I was surprised that Sen. Ted Cruz pushed fellow Republicans into a futile showdown and shutdown over President Barack Obama’s health care law. Cruz should know a Bay of Pigs-style fiasco when he sees one coming.
Cruz was schooled from an early age in the horrors of the Havana regime, according to his own accounts and those of his father, Rafael Cruz, who fled Cuba at age 18 in 1957. Yet the freshman Texas senator’s reckless march of his fellow tea party conservatives into the government shutdown and brush with debt default shared much in common with the 1961 CIA-backed invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs by anti-Castro exiles.
Both efforts turned out to be doomed from the start by faulty intelligence, information silos and a delusional strategy based on magical thinking.
In Cuba, the CIA convinced itself and the White House that the invasion would magically create “an organized resistance that did not exist,” as The New York Times quoted the CIA’s declassified inquest in 1998.
In similar fashion, Cruz and his fellow tea party Republicans in Congress expressed hope that their shutdown strategy would spur a mass uprising and force the political establishment to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act, popularly called Obamacare.
Sorry, folks. Quite the opposite has happened. The 2013 shutdown and flirtation with default have backfired against its instigators, much like the mid-1990s shutdown led by Speaker Newt Gingrich’s “revolutionaries.”
Outside of their self-congratulatory bubble, tea party Republicans won none of the big prizes they sought. If anything, they lost ground. They not only failed to damage Obamacare, but actually may have helped it.
By standing firm, President Obama and the Democrats came out strengthened. Obama’s supporters, who had grumbled about his giving up too much in earlier budget negotiations, were relieved to see the second-term Obama give up no major concessions to what he called the GOP’s “ransom” demands.
If anything, the crisis actually did Team Obama a favor. They should thank congressional Republicans for distracting attention from a huge page-one embarrassment: the fumbled rollout of the administration’s HealthCare.gov online insurance mall.
Amid a multitude of computer glitches, Obamacare actually became slightly more popular — or at least less unpopular. A mid-October Gallup poll found those who wanted the Affordable Care Act repealed or scaled back declined from 57 percent in early 2011 to only 50 percent. Perhaps there is yet hope for Obamacare after all.
There were “no winners,” said President Obama afterwards, which only seemed to confirm that he had won. Real winners don’t have to announce their victories. They can let others do that for them.
Cruz, by contrast, continued his earlier bellicose stance, declaring a victory of his own, not only against Democrats but also against his fellow Republicans who lacked his fearless, if reckless resolve in fighting Obamacare.
“Unfortunately, once again it appears the Washington establishment is refusing to listen to the American people,” Cruz said, echoing a charge tea partiers have been making against both parties. It was “a remarkable victory,” he said, “to see the House engage in a profile of courage.”
Considering how exhausted and humiliated Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) looked after failing to unite his GOP majority behind the final compromise, Cruz’s sentiments sound like a man cheering Don Quixote’s tilting at windmills.
But it is important to remember that Cruz’s favorability ratings have shot up among tea party supporters because he speaks for a cause that is larger than the boring if necessary concerns of actually governing or even his loyalty to GOP leaders in what he calls “the Washington establishment.”
The shame of the showdown was how unnecessary it was. Outside of Obamacare, the tea party movement’s stated goals already are being achieved.
Since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterm elections, according to the Congressional Budget Office, discretionary federal spending has been falling, the federal employee head count has been reduced and deficit reduction has been progressing at a faster pace than in any other three-year period since the wind-down that followed World War II.
It’s too bad that the tea party folks don’t seem to know when they’re winning.
Clarence Page is a nationally syndicated columnist.