Ted Cruz's attempt to defuse or delay the Affordable Care Act is gradually causing unintended consequences. Meant to embarrass Democrats, Cruz's actions are threatening to divide Republicans. Because the Texas senator is wedded to the politics of symbolism and not substance, he forces the party down a slippery slope.
No doubt many of those objecting to Cruz's quasi-filibusters are not at all happy with Obamacare. Yet they realize that Cruz for personal reasons is playing the politics of anything to discredit the president. However, many in the GOP realize that Obama is not as significant as in the past. They are far more concerned with Hillary Clinton and their chances in 2016.
By being so visible Cruz is what Robert Kennedy once said of Joseph McCarthy - "he's riding down publicity mountain." Contrast his behaviors with Rand Paul, who has carefully issued thoughtful remarks on the war on drugs and foreign policy. Cruz acts as if it is 2010 and 2012; he focuses on Obama who as every day passes becomes less and less relevant.
The current mix of libertarians, social rightists and fiscal conservatives are slowly coming to the parting of the ways. Libertarians led by Paul are gradually shaping an agenda more complicated than Cruz's "go slow, veto" approach. Paul's call for decriminalizing some drug offenses makes sense to middle class voters alarmed at the size of the prison population. He is shaping a new conservatism that appeals to a larger audience. Unlike Cruz, who is stuck to past fights, Paul's approach is thoughtful and policy driven.
Those Republicans who abandoned Cruz in the Senate are alarmed that they do not end up like John Boehner's curious crew in the House of Representatives. Constantly launching missives that are not passed, they seem reckless and foolish. More like Joe McCarthy and less like Newt Gingrich, they are more interested in personal manifestos than developing policies. In this way the Tea Party has undone the more deliberate style of the Contract with America of 1994.
But the good news for the GOP is, in the Senate at least, a group that has an interest in recalibrating the Old Conservatism with a new version. Cruz hearkens back to a shopworn approach of personal invective and grandstanding. But as the "Remember Benghazi" signs attest, this land of "in your face, show the flag" politics is quite popular with the "base."
But Cruz's antics drew fires from other conservatives who badly want to ruin the presidency. Already alarmed about the swaggering putschist politics emanating from some Republican state houses, leading GOP conservatives are worried the party may overplay their hand. Although they sympathize with Cruz's goals, they are careful about how the hand is to be played.
In the Senate the Republicans desire to advance an agenda that is untainted by carnival barkers and self- important "leaders" who do not lead.