Political Hay

Cruz Leads the Reaganite Rebellion

Will GOP Senators flee Reagan for Ford/Bush wing?

By 9.24.13

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“This has been one of the strangest weeks I’ve ever had in Washington. As soon as we listed Ted Cruz as our featured guest this week, I got unsolicited research and questions, not from Democrats but from top Republicans, to hammer Cruz.” -- Host Chris Wallace on this week’s Fox News Sunday

This is a battle to save America and restore the Constitution.

A battle for liberty and freedom.

Call it “The Reaganite Rebellion” -- a full blown show down between conservatives and liberals over the future of America.

So who do Republicans attack?

Why of course! Ted Cruz!

Republican senators and all those GOP Establishment types are freaking out about the Senator from Texas and co-creator of Don’t Fund It.com. That suddenly controversial site found here replete not only with a petition to sign forwarding a defunding request to Senators -- but helpfully providing a printable “Whip List” of GOP Senators and their status as to whether they have joined the fight to defund Obamacare. Smartly turning a powerful position once reserved only for Senators -- each party has an elected “Whip” whose task, as the name indicates, is to whip party colleagues into line for support or opposition to bill X -- into a tool for rank and file American voters. The list provides a telephone contact number and, this priceless line:

Please report what you hear from these senators so we can update our background information.

Oh the horror! Asking Americans to report in with intelligence on whether their US Senators are going to support the defunding of Obamacare!

The GOP Establishment is so mad they have momentarily stopped attacking Sarah Palin.

Fortunately, Governor Palin has not forgotten about the GOP Establishment. Over at Breitbart Palin rallied to Senator Cruz by penning this missive, which reads in part:

Those of us who hang in there supporting a major political party with our energy, time, and contributions would like to believe that that party would praise principled conservatives like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee for following through on campaign promises. We’d like to believe that the GOP establishment would applaud the way these bold leaders have rallied the grassroots to their cause. But, no, such praise would require a commensurate level of guts and leadership, and the permanent political class in D.C. is nothing if not gutless and rudderless.

We’re now, once again, subjected to the “anonymous sources” backstabbing game. The Capitol Hill cowards are rushing to anonymously denounce Senator Cruz to any reporter with a pad and pen.

Welcome to our world, Ted. The same people have been denouncing conservatives like me for years (right after they ask for help fundraising for themselves or endorsing the latest candidate they’ve suckered into paying their exorbitant consulting fees). We can compare shiv marks next time we meet, my friend.

If the Senate doesn’t get behind Ted Cruz’s efforts to defund Obamacare, it won’t be because of any failure on Ted’s part. It’ll be because there weren’t enough principled leaders to stand with him, and that would be a tragic loss, not for Ted, but for America.

Ouch.

It would be astounding to see all the venom being directed towards the Senator from Texas by Washington’s Establishment Republicans if, in fact, this were something new.

But it isn’t. Bereft of historical memory, clinging tight to the status quo and even tighter to the losing politics that are the hallmark of that status quo -- terrified Republicans have turned on Ted Cruz like they once went after… Ronald Reagan.

Yes, Ronald Reagan.

While no Republican Senator will ever breathe anything but the highest of laudatory tributes to Reagan these days, in fact once upon a time Reagan himself was treated in exactly the same way that Senator Cruz (not to mention Governor Palin) is treated today.

Why? For doing exactly what Senator Cruz is doing today.

Bluntly calling out the problems of the day and taking direct action to do something about them. This is a far cry from the Washington politics of going-along-to-get-along or as Reagan pointedly described it, the GOP Establishment’s politics of the “fraternal order.”

Senator Cruz, to the visible fury of the Inside-the-Beltway, it’s-all-about-the- tactics crowd, refuses to play The Washington Game. Cruz and his Utah colleague Mike Lee, along with others like Rand Paul, have no intention of mouthing words and slogans like “I voted to repeal Obamacare” all the while knowing the vote was meaningless mush and would do not a thing to damage the most unpopular government program since the Vietnam-era draft.

Instead, Cruz -- in his multiple media appearances and through the Don’t Fund Obamacare website -- is leading a move that would actually do something. To move the needle -- and make the stakes for Obamacare supporters have a political cost.

Doing, in other words, exactly the kind of thing Ronald Reagan did when he arrived on the nation’s political stage. The kind of thing that caused the Ford/Bush wing of the GOP to go after Reagan repeatedly as some sort of extremist nut.

Even more infuriating to some is that Ted Cruz is emerging as an heir to Ronald Reagan. Cruz, his television appeals and the Don’t Fund Obamacare website idea are the 21st century version of precisely the way Reagan himself led both as governor and president: by going over the heads of the politicians directly to the American people. Something the Republican elites of Reagan’s day -- not to mention the Democrats -- positively detested.

Why do they hate it? Because it means that the American people will directly confront their representatives and demand change. A case in point? Not unlike the recent dust-up over President Obama’s proposed military strike on Syria. The American people said -- NO! The Mighty Obama was stopped in his tracks -- when all manner of people said it couldn’t be done.

As Governor Reagan set his sights on reforming California’s out-of-control welfare system. Democrats controlled the state legislature. Reagan respectfully went to Democrat Bob Moretti who was Speaker of the State Assembly and requested a joint session where Reagan could formally present his welfare proposals to legislators. 

The Speaker refused.

OK, said Reagan. Have it your way. Out of Sacramento he went to each and every California audience he could find that would listen to him talk welfare reform. And just like Ted Cruz today with Don’t Fund Obamacare, Reagan made a point of asking his audiences to “keep those cards and letters coming” -- to Speaker Moretti.

Said Reagan much later, one fine day “Moretti came by my office with his hands raised and said, ‘Okay, I give in.’” The outpouring of mail and phone calls had confronted Moretti with the power of the people. Suddenly, negotiations between Reagan and Democrats in the legislature were underway -- and what was said to be the impossibility of welfare reform became reality.

So let’s have a little review, shall we? And let’s begin this look at the treatment of Senator Cruz with a look back at the treatment of Ronald Reagan himself.

Today? Yes indeed, there isn’t an Establishment Republican breathing who won’t pay lip service to Reagan. They love to invoke what Reagan popularized as the Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shall not speak ill of another Republican.” Saying this on camera -- but when they think their anonymity is guaranteed sending messages like those virulent anti-Cruz messages to an astonished Chris Wallace.

Let’s begin in the primordial mists of 1965 when then actor-Reagan has decided to run for the 1966 Republican nomination for Governor of California. What was the reaction? Here’s a sample headline from the New York Times:

G.O.P. Moderates Fear Coup by Reagan on Coast

And what were these “GOP Moderates” saying about Reagan?

Reagan himself told the Times that his California Republican Party opponents were spreading the word that “I’m a kind of right-wing kook.” Others were busily assuring the Times that Reagan “appeals only to a minority even in our own party” and that he was a supporter of the John Birch Society. The Times noted that Reagan was “closely identified with the right-wing of the Republican Party” -- and worse.

What was it that Reagan was saying that so terrified moderate, Establishment Republicans? Said Mr. Reagan:

“I think basically that I stand for what the bulk of Americans stand for -- dignity, freedom of the individual, the right to determine your own destiny.” 

Wow. Really “out there” kind of stuff.

He was tough on liberals, which terrified, even though he did it with a dollop of sympathy for the breed. Said the novice candidate (bold for emphasis mine):

“It would be immoral and the height of folly to infer these people are less patriotic than ourselves. They are sincerely motivated by the most humanitarian of ideals. But it would be equally foolish to let them have their way without opposition. If someone is setting fire to the house, it doesn’t really matter if he is a deliberate arsonist or just a fool playing with matches; the damage will be the same.”

Yes, you read that right. Sounding just like Ted Cruz Reagan was openly comparing liberals to arsonists and fools playing with matches.

O…M…G. The GOP Establishment of the day needed smelling salts.

Another Times reporter wrote of Reagan in tones of horror that are now routinely applied to Senator Cruz:

He is a scornful critic of ‘encroaching Federal control.’ He fears our birth right is being eroded and that we are drifting toward the ‘collectivist’ philosophy of Socialism, the precursor to tyrannical Communism.

Got that? All the way back there in 1965 -- 48 years ago! -- Reagan was well out there saying things for which Ted Cruz today is branded as some sort of…you guessed it…right-wing kook.

Like Ted Cruz, Reagan did not believe in a government run health care system either, but rather supported what the Times called “a private health insurance plan.” And the Constitution? Reagan “tends to interpret strictly.”

In fact, when one goes back over Reagan’s views when he burst onto the national political scene in that period between October of 1964 and his election as California governor in November of 1966 he sounds like nothing more than today’s Ted Cruz. As here:

“Experimenting with the lives of 190,00,000 people capriciously is much different than juggling test tubes in a laboratory. If damage is done to the nation, it is almost impossible to rectify; the bad drives out the good...” 

Updated for today this particular Reaganism would sound as if Ted Cruz himself were saying it.

The Times added that Reagan believed Liberals “have plans for socialism by means of encroaching Federal controls. He regards slavery as the inevitable consequence of socialism.”

Yes, you read that right too. Reagan said that federal control led to slavery which inevitably was caused by socialism.

The Democrats’ reaction to all this? The Times reporter himself described Reagan as a “right-winger” while quoting a Democrat who said Reagan was “unstable.” Unstable. As in: mentally unsound. Crazy. Nuts. Or, to borrow from Senator McCain on Cruz, Reagan was portrayed as a “wacko bird.”

And of course, there had to be a poll to back all of this up. Sure enough, right on cue, came the California poll run by Mervyn D. Field. Mr. Field’s poll, said the Times,“…offered a slight hope in California Republicans voted not philosophically but for candidates they thought could win.”

 Then out came the key “finding”: While 56% said they “preferred to vote ‘conservative’ …when asked what kind of Republican candidates had the best chance of winning elections in California only 34% replied conservative…”

Phew! What a relief! Maybe the GOP Establishment of California could stop this kook Reagan and his band of far-right extremists from destroying the California Republican Party!

When a commission to recommend tax reforms was appointed by Governor Reagan, they came back with an idea of a state withholding tax. Reagan would have none of it -- and was promptly accused by moderate Republicans of sabotaging his own commission.

One could go on here, but the point is a simple one.

The GOP Establishment -- and many of the Republican United Senators who seek their approval when not being card carrying members of that Establishment themselves -- is no different in 2013 than it was in the California of 1965. They are now, as then, always willing to allow one more turn of the socialist ratchet to the left because to stand up and be counted otherwise is seen as bad “tactics.” 

But there is a difference between 1965 and today -- and it’s a Big Difference.

With the rise of talk radio, Fox and the Internet there is a serious conservative media that simply didn’t exist in Reagan’s day. And said media is on the trail of GOP Senators and Establishment Washington Games. There are stories galore Out There about Obamacare and just why and how it has become so unpopular. 

Like this one, from the Spectator’s own David Catron precisely detailing how Team Obama bamboozled their own allies from the AFL-CIO and the America Medical association to Big Pharma, the Catholic Health Association and the American Hospital Association.

Wrote Catron of the gullibility problem of Obama allies:

The “leaders” of the CHA, Big Pharma, the AMA and the AFL-CIO constitute but a sample of the useful idiots exploited by the President and his congressional accomplices in order to foist Obamacare on the American public. The list of dupes goes on and on. They got presidential pens and photos of themselves grinning at the man who took them in. If they have any capacity for introspection, they also feel shame. Some have publicly repented of their support for Obamacare. Most still pretend they did the right thing. It may be an insult to the intellectually impaired to elevate such people to the level of “idiot.”

Ouch again.

Then there was this over at National Review by Andy McCarthy in which McCarthy details what he calls the Senate GOP’s “Con Job” on their opposition. Writes McCarthy:

This is the Washington political class in sharp relief. The Republican establishment resists President Obama and his agenda only when it knows that resistance is futile, token and sure to be inconsequential.…

By contrast, the current defunding effort is a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is moment: Risk a government shutdown over Obamacare funding under circumstances where Republicans could be blamed, but where (a) Obamacare is very unpopular and its downside consequences are just beginning to kick in; (b) the defunding strategy includes a commitment to fund the rest of government so it can be demonstrated that Obama would really be the one shutting down the government over Obamacare; and (c) Obama himself has already unilaterally and unconstitutionally defunded aspects of Obamacare, including repugnant accommodations for big corporations, Obama insiders, and members of Congress — such that, if the government shuts down, Republicans can compellingly argue that they are only insisting that the American people get the same relief from this awful law that Obama cronies, the ruling class, and the politically-connected get.

Then there was this double-barreled shot from Fox and talk radio combined, in the person of a live Neil Cavuto interview with Mark Levin leading Cavuto’s show. Levin provided Fox viewers with a blistering review of the “French Republicans” and the Ford-Bush wing of the GOP -- and notably Levin went after the Bush-allied commentators on Fox, clearly separating the Reaganites from the Bushies.

Then there was Cruz himself, appearing last night on Sean Hannity's TV show.

Yikes.

While these kind of sentiments expressed through telling the sharp, unvarnished truth about the left -- as Catron and McCarthy have done -- were around in Reagan’s day and came repeatedly from Reagan himself, there was no conservative media of note to support him. The David Catrons and Andy McCarthys and Mark Levins were around, but there was no media access of consequence. The kind of appearance that Cruz made on the Hannity show last night would never have seen the light of liberal media daylight in 1965.

So the media of the day -- throughout Reagan’s entire political career up through two-terms in the White House kept delivering some version of the message they are now trying… with the help of GOP Establishment insiders… to deliver about Ted Cruz.

To borrow from the Wizard of Oz: pay no attention to the man on your television screen…he’s a right-wing nut job!

It was a tribute not just to Reagan’s character and persistence but his understanding of the American people that enabled him to succeed.

Like Ted Cruz, Reagan understood perfectly that some fights might be lost but that it was his job to keep moving the ball. Playing the “fraternal order” Washington his game was never Reagan’s style. This drove Establishment Republicans of the day to distraction -- and like Cruz this problem surfaced quickly in the U.S. Senate with Senate Republicans.

The irony? Republicans had not had control of the U.S. Senate since 1954, wandering in the political desert that is a Senate minority for 26 years. Only when Reagan headed the 1980 ticket and a Reagan landslide ensued were so many Republicans swept into the Senate that long-time minority GOP senators became powerful Senate committee chairmen. And sure enough, like clockwork, these very same senators went out of their way to attack -- Ronald Reagan.

GOP Senators, later noted biographer Steven F. Hayward, opposed every Reagan proposal from cutting social programs to cutting cabinet departments (Education and Energy) to privatizing the Bonneville Power Administration to tough treatment of the Soviets to his views on arms control and more. Incredibly, then-Senator Bob Packwood, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, “attacked Reagan as an obstacle to a Republican realignment.”

Really.

So here we go again. It’s the same and more of the same. Oh don’t do that Senator Cruz… it’s not smart tactics! It’s not good politics!

This is the advice of politicians more interested in protecting their own hide.

Or, as has been suggested, running a Con Job.

The difference between Ted Cruz and Ronald Reagan and their ideas of what real leadership is?

Decades -- and that’s it. The Cruz Crusade is effectively a modern-day Reaganite Rebellion.

Both men understood and understand the fundamental necessity of drawing (pardon me, President Obama) a red line between left and right. Or, as Reagan said, the vital need to “point out how different the Dems & Repubs are.”

Will GOP Senators stand up and be counted? Will they draw that line? Will they stop playing defense and the GOP Establishment’s endless game of “smart politics” that are not only never smart but always losing?

Will they help lead the Reaganite Rebellion?

Or not?

Stay tuned to Don’t Fund Obamacare to find out.

The place where, thanks to Senator Ted Cruz, you can crack the whip in the Reaganite Rebellion.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.