Inside the Conservative Bubble, It Looks Like Ted Cruz Is Winning Big

Shutdown polling looks apocalyptic for the Republican Party, but at the Values Voters Summit, activists weren't ready to back down.
Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press

Friday was a difficult day to wake up Republican in America. With the government shutdown entering its 11th day, a poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News had definitively quashed any hopes that people might be taking the GOP’s side in the standoff. Americans blamed Republicans over the president by a 20-point margin for the shutdown; the GOP’s rating was at its lowest point in the pollster’s history. Shutting down the government to demand that the president’s unpopular health-care law be stopped had somehow made both President Obama and his health-care legislation more popular.

You might expect this news to put a damper on a roomful of conservatives. In official Washington, Republicans were in a full-on panic; commentators called the party suicidal, and lawmakers began scurrying toward a resolution to the standoff. But Senator Ted Cruz of Texas—the man whose adamant resolve and 21-hour filibuster had helped bring on the stalemate, earning him the loathing of many of his colleagueswas in a defiant mood.

Taking the stage at the Values Voter Summit, an annual gathering of religious-right activists, Cruz announced that they were winning the fight. “I am here this morning with a word of encouragement and exhortation!” Cruz said. A woman in the front row shouted a passage from Romans: “If God is with you, who can be against you?” “I receive that blessing,” Cruz said somberly.

The conventional wisdom that the battle to stop the health-care law cannot be won, to Cruz, was merely a “trick” perpetrated by the deceitful left. “Look, the Democrats are feeling the heat,” he said. Cruz has been huddling with the lower chamber’s most conservative members, urging them to pressure Speaker John Boehner, prompting some to declare him a sort of shadow speaker. “In my view, the House of Representatives needs to keep doing what it’s been doing, which is standing strong,” he said.

Cruz was interrupted no less than seven times by immigration protesters, each of whom was peacefully escorted out by security. “The nice thing is, the left will always, always, always tell you who they fear,” he mused. Cruz has become an object of fascination among liberals. His speech was carried live on MSNBC; Fox News ignored it.

Senator Mike Lee of Utah, who partnered with Cruz to push the demand to defund the health-care law that provoked the shutdown, decried the "president's conduct" during the shutdown. Conservatives allege that Obama has selectively applied the closure of the federal government to the functions that will hurt the most people. Lee acknowledged he and Cruz had been “roundly criticized,” but “we make no apologies,” he proclaimed.

Lee told a story about his teenage son listening to music with raunchy lyrics. “Dad, it’s not bad if you don’t think about it,” the boy said. The senator meant it as a parable about the president as compared to the GOP, which he framed as the party of facing hard truths. But not thinking about the current political situation seemed applicable to him and his fellow speakers. After his refusal to apologize, Lee spent the remainder of his allotted 20 minutes making a pitch for renewed emphasis on community in the GOP. Senator Rand Paul, for his part, didn’t even allude to the shutdown, with a speech about the international war on Christianity he said was being perpetrated by radical Muslims.

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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