Ezra Klein on Ted’s “Message”

Two issues led to the shutdown. One was defunding or delaying Obamacare. The other, as Sen. Ted Cruz put it, was “making D.C. listen.”

What’s been remarkable — and largely unnoticed — is that Republicans have abandoned both those demands. But that hasn’t led them to reopen the government — much less swear off a debt-ceiling crisis. So the hostage remains even as the GOP rethinks and rewrites its ransom note.

“It is time, quite simply, to make D.C. listen,” Cruz said during his 21-hour filibuster. But Cruz isn’t listening to America. Fox News’s Megyn Kelly confronted him about this on Monday night:

KELLY:: There is a poll that’s just out tonight from Politico Senator show that your numbers with the American people aren’t that great. I will show you. This has been released at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Favorability are rating 26 percent, 45 percent have an unfavorable opinion of you, 29 percent say they aren’t sure. So, the question is whether you are costing yourself and the GOP.

CRUZ: Well, I haven’t seen the particular poll you are referencing. But I can tell you, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.’ Does that sound like someone who’s listening to America?

I asked Ted Cruz’s office about this on Tuesday. They pointed out that Politico’s poll is only of Virginia voters, which is fair enough. But other polls have shown overwhelming national majorities opposed to Cruz’s campaign to shutdown the government in order to defund or delay Obamacare. His office says the shutdown is the Democrats’ fault because they won’t compromise on Obamacare. Cruz isn’t listening. He’s messaging.

The Republican Party is little better. For all the talk over how unpopular Obamacare is, the congressional GOP, at this point, is much less popular than Obamacare, with a 24 percent approval rating and a startling 70 percent disapproval rating. According to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, that’s gotten worse since the shutdown. But they haven’t reopened the government.

So much for following the will of the people. What’s odder about the shutdown, though, is that Republicans have also abandoned their core policy demand. They’ve largely stopped talking about Obamacare. They’re begging simply for negotiations. Their latest plan, in fact, is for another budget commission:

The GOP’s play, announced by Cantor at the meeting, is to push for a bicameral commission that brought comparisons to the “supercommittee” from the 2011 Budget Control Act.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Paul Ryan articulates the emerging strategy. “To break the deadlock, both sides should agree to common-sense reforms of the country’s entitlement programs and tax code,” he writes. The word “Obamacare” never appears in the piece. Nor does any other reference to the president’s health-care law.

The Republican Party initially justified this shutdown and these tactics to itself by arguing that it was channeling the will of the people and justified by the dangers of Obamacare. But they’ve lost pubic opinion and realized Obamacare isn’t up for negotiation. But the loss of their original rationale for the shutdown hasn’t led them to reopen the government. So now, as Rep. Martin Stutzman truthfully but unfortunately put it, they’re just trying “to get something out of this.” They don’t know what they want except for something that lets them argue they didn’t lose.

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