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Jack Zaleski, Published September 28 2013

Zaleski: Pull up a chair for the circle shoot

The best thing that could happen to Democrats is for Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to dominate the agenda and grab headlines for the next year. Cruz and his allies are setting the stage for Republicans to do what they do so well: gather in a circle and shoot each other. It happened in the presidential campaigns of 2008 and 2012, and it’s shaping up to happen again in the run-up to Election Day 2016.

Cruz is the leading darling of the tea party forces in his party (or outside the party). He’s appropriated the Republican position in the national debate over everything from Obamacare to the debt ceiling to immigration. He’s both a prophet of the tea party (his fans say) and an out-of-control freshman senator (the GOP leadership says). He’s pursuing a strategy that will put him squarely in the primary field for the coming presidential campaign.

Democrats must be smiling so broadly their faces hurt. And if it’s not enough that Cruz likely will be a foot-in-mouth GOP presidential candidate, Democrats can also count on failed governor and failed vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin to support Cruz and his lemmings. The ever-so-articulate Palin emerged last week during his doomed-from-the-start faux filibuster of a Senate budget resolution. Palin, whose political career has morphed into a version of the Kardashians, is always entertaining, whether one likes her politics or not. Teamed with Cruz, it’s a show for the history (or comedy) books.

The fallout from Cruz’s self-aggrandizement is that he is causing mainstream Republicans (the ones who really can win national elections) to pull out their hair. No less than strategist Karl Rove (still smarting from his abysmally wrong call on the 2012 Romney-Obama race), the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are just short of frantic about the possibility of Cruz and company blowing up Republican chances of taking the White House in 2016.

It’s a legitimate concern that is being played out in Congress. If Cruz and like-minded lawmakers in the House and Senate block compromise over a continuing budget resolution, a government shutdown is guaranteed. Every poll – even Republican-oriented polls – show Republicans will be blamed. Having redefined themselves as grim obstructionists (the party of “no”) it is no surprise a majority of Americans knows where to assign blame.

Stay tuned. The Republican circle shoot is forming up.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.