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Cruz and the Defeat Caucus

Peter Suderman reviews recent Republican efforts in Congress and finds them severely wanting:

Right now the GOP has no strategic or tactical savvy. Instead, the party has a surfeit of bluster.

The appeal of such aggresssive tactics is perhaps understandable given the Obama administration’s deeply frustrating policy choices. But they would be far more appealing if they offered any chance of victory. What the failed defunding fight makes clear is that there’s little if any substantive advantage in this approach.

Suderman acknowledges the limits of what the GOP can do when it controls just one house of Congress, but adds that recognizing these limits is exactly what some Republicans in Congress are failing to do. Instead of trying to “work effectively within those limits, exploiting clear opposition weak points and pushing for narrow victories that stand some change of being accomplished,” they have opted for trying to achieve unobtainable goals with tactics that have split their own party. This approach places great value on zeal and combativeness and isn’t very concerned with success. For that reason, it won’t produce the desired results at an acceptable political price. Cruz has railed against Republican defeatism, but in practice Cruz has made himself the leader of what one might call the defeat caucus.

If there were reason to believe that the Cruz approach made it more likely for Republicans to take control of the Senate, one could at least make a narrowly political argument that it advances the party’s electoral prospects, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. At best, this approach doesn’t seem to improve Republican electoral chances. At worst, it could hurt them in close races and potentially prevent them from picking up enough seats to have a majority. To the extent that the theatrics of the last week contribute to a government shutdown, that will likely sour the public even more on Republicans in Congress and that might end up undermining Republican candidates in competitive states.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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