by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
On December 2, 1991, National Review published a cover with the headline “Honey, We Shrunk the Party.” It featured “The Two Bobs” — the Senate’s Dole and the House’s Michel — examining a dwarf elephant under a magnifying glass. Inside were four pages lamenting “The GOP’s Good Losers.” In the wings waited Newt Gingrich, who had risen to prominence hammering not only the Democrats but also the GOP leadership in Congress, a familiar litany: insufficient conservatism, insufficient steel, excessive generosity in compromise, moral and political sloth.
The more things change . . .
Gingrich would go on to become speaker and to instill in congressional Republicans a more vigorous and confrontational attitude that for better and for worse (mainly better) survives to this day. After a series of frustrating failures, he eventually beat Bill Clinton into submission on welfare reform and won a great deal in a series of compromises that more or less balanced the budget.
Dole and Michel are still with us (both are 92 years old) and Dole has made an ill-advised sortie out of retirement to inveigh against Senator Ted Cruz. The old bulls of the Senate revere the institution itself and its courtly habits, and they detect in Senator Cruz a certain contempt for its traditions, particularly its tradition of collegiality. If Republican senators hate Senator Cruz, well, he hated them first.
But Senator Cruz, the ardent constitutionalist, has performed in office precisely the duty for which senators are empowered and distinguished from the members of the House. The House of Representatives is a steering wheel; the presidency is an accelerator; the Senate is a brake. Shutdowns, gridlock, obstruction, mulish foot-stamping opposition to the president’s agenda: These are not defects in our system of government — they are why we have a Senate. Ted Cruz may have rubbed many of his colleagues the wrong way, and some of them resent that he started running for president about eleven seconds after he was sworn in to the Senate. (Presumably, Senator Paul and Senator Rubio will forgo that line of criticism.) If you care a great deal about who sits at which table in the Senate cafeteria, that matters a great deal. Ted Cruz, well aware that he is nobody’s ray of senatorial sunshine, has wisely declared that while he may not be the guy you want to have a beer with, he’s your first choice in designated drivers.