SAN DIEGO — In his crusade against the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has been not-so-gently reminded of the first rule of Congress: “Thou shalt not pressure a colleague to keep a campaign promise.”
Cruz – and fellow Senate “wacko birds” Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky and, to a lesser degree, Marco Rubio of Florida – have the audacity to hope that Republicans in the House and Senate will do what they said they were going to do when applying for the job.
What are they thinking?
Putting a colleague on the spot like this is just not done. It’s a serious breach of etiquette by the junior senator from Texas, who somehow got it into his head that members of Congress go to Washington to serve constituents. Now, after nine eventful months on the job, he knows the truth: Most people go to Washington . . . to find new and creative ways to stay in Washington.
Most Americans understand that Congress is dysfunctional. A Gallup poll put its approval rating at 19 percent. Yet, if the people have contempt for Congress, the feeling is mutual. Rather than represent constituents, most lawmakers roll over them.
Take Obamacare. Democrats in Congress passed a bill that was more than 2,400 pages long and that presumably few of them had even read. At one point, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi explained that lawmakers had to pass the bill to see what was in it. When the bill was being debated and then signed into law, polls consistently showed that Americans had deep concerns about making such a radical change in the nation’s health care system.
Now, members of Congress and their staffs will get subsidies to purchase coverage, and other groups are looking for exemptions to the law. This is a spectacle that resembles employees who work in a restaurant vowing never to eat there. No wonder the public’s concerns have intensified.
According to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, just 31 percent of Americans say the law is a good idea, while 44 percent say it is a bad idea.
Passing this bill was a mistake, but Congress has a knack for doubling down on mistakes. So, rather than try to defund Obamacare, the GOP establishment would rather try to destroy Cruz.
During a recent installment of “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace informed viewers that when it was announced that Cruz would appear on the show, producers were immediately inundated with unsolicited opposition research and pointed questions from fellow Republicans intended to trip up the Texas senator.
One of the brightest, most exciting and most promising political figures to come out of the Republican Party in years is now a pariah within the GOP. Within the Beltway, the consensus is that this reflects poorly on Cruz. In much of the rest of the country, people understand the reality – that it reflects badly on the party.
Meanwhile, being part of Team Ted is not all bluebonnets and sweet tea. For his fans and friends – and I’m both – the misery of it all is knowing that when someone is this hated by his colleagues, he won’t get much done. So before long, the perception will be that he is more of a show horse than a workhorse.
Yet, because you also realize that the surest way for someone to be popular in Congress is to go along to get along and cover for one another, you’re not convinced that it is such a bad thing that Cruz probably finds himself eating alone in the Senate cafeteria.
If you go down the first path, you’ll never be the solution. If you choose the second, you’ve become part of the problem. The Senate offers more bad choices than the crisis in Syria.
Whatever Cruz does, he is going to get criticized by Beltway elites – both in Congress and the media. They can’t make heads or tails out of anyone who doesn’t care about joining their clique.
In a new profile of Cruz for GQ magazine, an adviser to Sen. John McCain told the magazine that the Arizona senator “(expletive deleted) hates Cruz.” McCain also told CNN that it is just “not rational” for anyone to think that Obamacare can be repealed or defunded.
Apparently, many Republicans agree with that assessment. They don’t believe anything can be done to stop Obamacare.
Now they tell us.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.