President Obama and Sen. Ted Cruz have some things in common, including stunning ascents to political stardom, exotic and mixed ethnic backgrounds that give additional resonance, complex starts in life that give rise to birther/conspiracy theories, and reputations for brilliance that do not seem to translate well into dealing with political everyday life.
Their judgment is bad, their experience slight, and their egos enormous. They are cult figures with frenzied admirers, which compounds the problem. They are full of themselves and firmly believe they can do the impossible.
They are obsessed with ideology and see little beyond it. They are fixated on health care --- to destroy or enshrine it --- and will sacrifice anything to do so. And they are running headlong into optional coming implosions they created all by themselves.
If governing is the art of building and tending strong coalitions, co-opting opponents, and amassing as many people as possible behind one’s agenda, Cruz and Obama believe in confrontation, maximizing resistance, creating and fueling a strong opposition, and driving potential supporters away.
Obama began with an approval rating of 70 percent in 2009 and within months had driven it more than 20 points lower with green power; spending; and, above all, health care reform, which voters disliked at the very beginning and liked even less over time.
When polls and two elections popped up as stop signs, he drove right through them, and when a third (Scott Brown's election to the Senate from Massachusetts) ended his hopes of passage by normal procedures, he rammed Obamacare through on a procedural loophole that fanned the spark of dissent to a blaze.
Sixty-three House Democrats lost seats in November, and Republicans took over a dozen state houses that fall, plus hundreds of state legislative slots.
In 2013, House and Senate Republicans were united in resistance to Obamacare (a position supported by most of the voters) but divided on the approaches to doing so, split between a largely symbolic attempt to defund it and a more practical pitch for a one-year delay.
Into this strategic consensus Cruz drove a tank, linking the popular cause of opposition to health care to the unpopular one of a government shutdown, assailing the character and motives of critics as “the surrender caucus” and “quislings,” while friendly PACs threatened primaries against them and spent thousands on ads tearing them down.
Having started a civil war in his party, Cruz took a leaf from Obama's playbook on Syria, saying he knew he never had enough votes in the Senate, vowing to fight on regardless, and urging Republicans in the Senate to filibuster the bill he insisted be passed.
Confusing? Well, yes. “There never was a plan' to defund Obamacare in the sense of a legislative strategy crafted around having the votes for victory,” as National Review's Rich Lowry explained it.
“There was a hope that if the House voted to end Obamacare in the context of a shutdown confrontation, a wave of popular support would crash into Washington. ... Anyone who thought there was a plan or even a detailed understanding of the procedure was sadly mistaken,” Lowry said.
A “wave of support?” Not very likely, as the one thing less popular than the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a government shutdown. But this is what passes for brilliance in the Age of Obama, in which Democrats cling to an unworkable act that’s collapsing around them while Republicans enter a delicate negotiation in a state of hysterical fratricide.
Obama and Cruz, separated at birth but joined at the hip in their ego and arrogance, have dug their parties deep into holes of their making. Can we try to go back to square one?Noemie Emery, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."