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Wahls: A game of votes

BY ZACH WAHLS | OCTOBER 15, 2013 5:00 AM

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The students of the University of Iowa have always been relatively moderate, politically speaking, for what you might expect in the “Ivory Tower” of academia. Perhaps that’s because our school draws from students in rural Iowa, the Chicago suburbs and, increasingly, abroad. I doubt there’s a single right answer. And while we are not on the precipice of massive change in partisan identification, I think students of all political persuasions can agree: the Republican Party has changed.

The ongoing government shutdown and brinksmanship with the federal debt ceiling has called into sharp relief the difference between the Party of Lincoln and today’s GOP.

An observer might naturally wonder why the minority party — which stormed into control of the House of Representatives in 2010 but subsequently received 1.4 million fewer votes than the opposing party in 2012 — would pick the year after losing a presidential election to stage a protracted government shutdown. Why now?

After all, anyone can at least understand the want to exercise fiscal discipline — even if one does not agree that it’s necessary — but this latest showdown smacks of futile, needless crusade. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was open to a favorable deal over the summer but was forced to abandon a compromise solution by his right flank, as tea-party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, led the charge to defund the Affordable Care Act as a condition for funding the government and raising the debt ceiling.

The answer is simple enough: Nature abhors a vacuum, and Cruz has been more than happy — and able — to fill the void in Republican leadership and lead the party into a government shutdown. You may have heard about his 21-hour faux-filibuster, which he spent railing against the Affordable Care Act. It is telling that after he finished his faux-filibuster, his final stop, after the restroom, was a lengthy interview with Rush Limbaugh.

It’s the worst kept secret in Republican politics that the party’s nominee in 2016 will be far, far to the right of Mitt Romney and John McCain, assuming of course that they can find a candidate who will remember that crucial third thing. (And they probably will.) The Republican base is convinced that the party’s candidates in 2012 and 2008 were not conservative enough to rustle the interest of the American electorate. Hard as that may be to believe, listening to 30 minutes of conservative talk radio will back me up on this.

Cruz, who has been spending an awful lot of time here in Iowa, doesn’t care about the Affordable Care Act. He cares about creating a series of litmus tests — a Game of Votes, as it were — about what it means to be a “real conservative” and systematically disqualifying his competition for the GOP’s presidential nomination in 2016. Any Republican familiar with the history of the party should be able to explain why this is a bad idea and is a clear violation of the “Buckley Rule,” a suggestion from conservative intellectual William Buckley to elect the most conservative candidate possible but to compromise on the “conservative” part, not the “possible” part.

Though it may seem obvious in retrospect, this exercise was never going to end well for the Republican Party. It sounds ludicrous for the party of “small government” that has spent decades branding the other party as “pro-big government” to argue that that same party wants to shut the government down. Regardless of whether or not it’s true, any high-school debater could have explained to Cruz why that was an ineffective argument.

By creating this “Game of Votes,” Cruz has threatened the full faith and credit of the United States of America, continues to alienate his party from the American mainstream, and denied essential services to millions of Americans still struggling to get by. Here’s hoping cooler heads prevail.


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