CONNOLLY: Cruz control

The government shutdown hurt the country but propelled Ted Cruz into political stardom

Without a doubt, you know him by now. Baby-faced, Canada-born, Texas-raised, Ivy-educated, Tea Party-backed Ted Cruz is the talk of the nation. His attempt to tie the Affordable Care Act to the U.S. debt ceiling captivated the U.S. and the world. His efforts, which included a long-winded, 21-hour filibuster on the Senate floor, led to a 16-day government shutdown, a multibillion dollar hit to the American economy and a fresh wave of populist vitriol aimed at Congress. And yet, incredible though it may seem, despite the havoc Cruz has created — not to mention the civil war he has sparked within his own party — Cruz may profit politically from this fiasco.

The thought of a Ted Cruz presidency might seem impossible to some, but I would argue that it is not as outlandish a possibility as many commentators might think. Last week, amid shutdown fever, Cruz won the Value Voter’s Summit 2016 Straw Poll, besting presumed presidential candidates such as Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. Cruz’s actions may have incurred the wrath of Obama, the Democratic party and a sizable portion of Republicans, but Cruz nevertheless appears to have established himself as a legitimate contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.

Although potential candidates such as Chris Christie and Jeb Bush might possess more mainstream appeal, they first must win the Republican primary. The Ted Cruz who abetted the government shutdown would have no realistic chance of winning a general election, but a post-primary Ted Cruz is likely to look and sound very different. Cruz can always veer to the political center if he wins the party’s nomination, but he first must win the nomination. And as extremists often make up a large portion of the primary electorate for both parties, Ted Cruz stands a good chance to be among the favorites for the Republican nomination in 2016.

Aside from bringing him acclaim from the far-right wing of the Republican Party, Cruz’s efforts to defund Obamacare have enriched his own political funds. In the course of his 21-hour filibuster, Cruz’s political action committee pulled in $797,000, almost double what he raised in the entire previous fiscal quarter. Although Cruz may find himself the subject of attack ads, his nascent fundraising prowess, coupled with his status as a Tea Party hero, will keep the cash rolling in.

Meanwhile, outside the walls of the Capitol, the shutdown’s effects continue, even though Congress has temporarily “solved” the problem. The U.S. government has seen its cost of borrowing money skyrocket as creditors demand higher interest rates in return for the massive political risk that now accompanies American debt. For all his emphasis on the budget and spending cuts, Cruz’s political maneuvering has ensured that the U.S. government will now have to spend more to borrow money.

The government shutdown has had, and continues to have, negative impacts for many Americans — but not for Cruz. This has frightening implications for the future. Members of Congress now apparently possess the power to hold the functioning of U.S. government hostage in an attempt to alter certain bills or government programs. I worry that members of Congress — particularly senators — will look at Cruz’s theatrical example and seek to emulate him for political gain. I hope lawmakers remember that although they might reap political rewards from their “principled” stands, the other 300 million or so Americans rely on a functioning government. The shutdown might have been a boon to Ted Cruz’s career, but it certainly was not a boon to everyone else. This is an important lesson for politicians to remember as the debates over the budgets continue into the foreseeable future.

John Connolly is a Viewpoint columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

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