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Darryl Paulson: The Cruzifiction of the Republican Party

The Democratic Party has found a new political strategist to guide its future. His name is Ted Cruz, Republican U.S. Senator from Texas and the developer of the GOP strategy to link increasing the debt ceiling to eliminating the money for Obamacare.

Cruz’s strategy has resulted in the Republican Party receiving a 24 percent favorable rating from Americans in the Oct. 7 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.  This is the lowest rating the party has ever received.

Both parties, but especially the Republicans, are becoming more ideological.  For decades, most Americans said there was not a “dime’s worth of difference” between the parties.  Be careful what you wish for, because the two parties are as different as one could imagine.

Ideologues are purists who detest compromise.  In the 1970s and 1980s, it was the Democrats who drifted so far out of the mainstream that voters abandoned them.  These “San Francisco Democrats,” as the Republicans labeled them, were so extreme that they made Ronald Reagan look like a centrist.

Today, it is the Republicans who have been captured by ideologues.  As former GOP Congressman Chris Chocola, now head of the conservative Club for Growth has said, “the whole concept of compromise and bipartisanship is silly.”  Republicans want to elect a “majority of true fiscal conservatives.”

In addition, former South Carolina U.S. Senator Jim DeMint, now president of the Heritage Foundation, launched the Senate Conservative Fund during his Senate career.  It raised money to elect conservative senators such as Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida.  It also supported extreme candidates such as Christine O’Donnell of Delaware and Todd Akin of Missouri, allowing Democrats to win unexpected seats.

How rigid have Cruz and the conservatives become?  One wrong vote is enough to bring on a primary challenge.  The Club for Growth has started a “Primary My Congressman” project for those they label RINO’s (Republicans in Name Only).

Even someone like Congressman Pete Sessions, chair of the House Rules Committee, was targeted because of a single vote extremists opposed. And Sessions had established a 97 percent conservative rating on his votes during his 16 years as a congressman.

Ideologues would rather lose elections than compromise their principles.  As DeMint has repeatedly said, “I would rather have 30 Marco Rubio’s than 60 Arlen Specters.”

So why did the Democrats win the recent budget battle?

First, Democrats are united and singing the same tune.  Republicans were divided and sounded like the Tower of Babel choir.

Second, it was not clear what the Republicans wanted to achieve.  Even one Republican congressman said as much when asked what the goal was for Republicans.

Third, the Republican tactic of blaming the Democrats for the shutdown failed because it lacked believability.  Republicans were the ones who took the government as a hostage, and Americans have never supported negotiating with hostage-takers.

Fourth, Republicans failed to learn the political lessons from the 1995-1996 shutdown.  Most Americans blamed Republicans for that one and, by even a larger margin, they’re blaming the GOP for this one.

What did the conservative insurrection achieved?  One million federal workers were furloughed, national parks and monuments closed and Fitch, a credit rating service, announced it put the United States under a “negative credit watch.”

Those ramifications are unlikely to win the GOP many supporters.  Then again, political purists would rather stand by their principles than win elections.

Their wish may come true, for they are becoming increasingly unlikely to win elections.

Written By

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg.

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