Though the bulk of the Republican Party has no appetite for more economic brinksmanship, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) apparently does. This week, he demanded a cloture vote on raising the debt ceiling, which requires 60 votes to pass, thus ensuring that at least some Republicans would have to side with Democrats on the procedural motion.
Embattled Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), both of whom are facing Tea Party primary challengers this year, did just that.
The snap reaction from many political journalists was that the vote could endanger both lawmakers' jobs. To the Twittersphere:
Most GOP senators will correctly see this vote as McConnell doing them a favor. Primary voters, maybe not so much.— Josh Barro (@jbarro) February 12, 2014
Ted Cruz may so far be officially staying out of incumbent primaries, but he just gave Mitch McConnell challenger Matt Bevin a leg up.— Kasie Hunt (@kasie) February 12, 2014
Set aside the fact that this was a simple procedural vote, and that the GOP lined up against actually raising the debt ceiling. The Senate Conservatives Fund slammed McConnell for his vote, saying, "Mitch McConnell just voted with the Democrats to advance yet another debt limit increase. Kentucky deserves better."
McConnell and Cornyn are not the only potential casualties in this scenario. Republicans need to pick up six seats to take back control of the upper chamber, which means that paving the way for fringe Tea Partiers to represent the GOP in a general election could cost the party a shot at winning the Senate. Did Cruz just seal the GOP's Senate ambitions?
In a word: nope.
First of all, both McConnell and Cornyn have voted to raise the debt ceiling many times in the past. A "Cornyn voted nine times to raise the debt ceiling" campaign slogan isn't exactly more powerful than "Cornyn voted eight times to raise the debt ceiling." In that respect, the debt ceiling was already baked into the cake.
More to the point, neither McConnell or Cornyn are facing credible primary challengers to begin with.
McConnell isn't too popular back home, but he leads Tea Party–backed businessman Matt Bevin by a 26-point margin, according to one recent poll. He's also dramatically outraised Bevin to pad his already enormous war chest. And he brought in Tea Party favorite Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) former campaign manager to run his re-election bid.
As for Bevin, he's come under fire of late for railing against the TARP bailout program despite having championed it back in 2008. Flip-flopping on an issue so dear to the Tea Party won't win him much favor on the far right.
In Texas, Cornyn also hired a Tea Party organizer to run his campaign, and he, too, has a commanding lead despite once seeming vulnerable to a generic conservative challenger. A December poll put him up by 44 points on his opponent, Rep. Steve Stockman.
Why such a huge lead? Maybe because Stockman is the congressman who brought Ted Nugent to the State of the Union, and whose campaign bumper sticker proclaims, "If babies had guns, maybe they wouldn't be aborted."
Also aiding the incumbents is the fact that the GOP establishment has grown a tad weary of the Tea Party. The Chamber of Commerce has said it will spend up to $50 million pushing back on insurgent campaigns.
McConnell and Cornyn aren't really on thin ice, at least not in their respective primaries. And though Cruz's latest bit of grandstanding might help him with conservative voters in 2016, it won't doom his party in 2014.
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