Snarky attacks! Blind quotes! Blood on the floor!
The media are wallowing in the latest outburst of Republican infighting, with unnamed party hotshots beating up on Sen. Ted Cruz.
At first the story line, a familiar one by now, was that House Speaker John Boehner had lost control of his caucus. Boehner was determined to avoid a budget showdown vote that could lead to shutting down the government, but caved when 40 of his most conservative rebels refused to go along.
Boehner “waved the white flag,” as the New York Times put it, “surrendering to demands from his right flank” that the House vote on defunding ObamaCare. Boehner caved despite the fact that, reality check here, that’s never going to happen.
Given that Boehner has repeatedly been rolled by his Tea Party factor, this is not exactly a new story line. Remember his ill-fated “Plan B” and his defeat on the farm bill?
Only this time, as in the fiscal cliff showdown, the continued functioning of the federal bureaucracy is on the line, and so is Boehner’s speakership, if he allows the mutiny to build.
Enter Cruz, the freshman senator who has become a leader of the party’s “defund ObamaCare or else” wing. He caused an outrage by putting out the following statement.
“Harry Reid will no doubt try to strip the defund language from the continuing resolution, and right now he likely has the votes to do so,” he said. “At that point, House Republicans must stand firm, hold their ground, and continue to listen to the American people.”
Uh oh. Cue the howls of outrage.
Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post’s conservative blogger, channeled the anger in her column.
“Here Cruz and company had been grandstanding — only to tell them the whole thing was a lark and then demand the House stand firm,” she writes. “‘Our members are really pissed at his comment,’ one senior House aide fumed. ‘If he simply acknowledges they didn’t have the votes, he proves our point.’”
The Huffington Post quotes a senior GOP official as saying, “Ted Cruz came here to throw bombs and fundraise off attacks on fellow Republicans. He’s a joke, plain and simple.”
Here’s another, from National Review, quoting a “House GOP leadership aide.”
“For weeks, House Republicans have said the prospects of passing a defund bill in the Senate are grim, and Senators Lee, Cruz and Rubio have responded by saying nothing is impossible if we fight hard enough,” the aide said. “Now they are getting exactly what they asked for, and they issue a press release conceding defeat and refusing to join the fight they demanded in every TV appearance. It’s time they put their money where their mouths are, and do something other than talk.”
And CNN’s Dana Bash tweeted: “Wow. House gop leadership aide just told me ‘Wendy Davis has more balls than Ted Cruz.’” (Davis is the Texas Democratic lawmaker who led a filibuster on an abortion bill and might run for governor.)
Great spectator sport, right?
However, why exactly should these staffers be granted anonymity to personally attack Ted Cruz?
If a “leadership aide” works for Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, wouldn’t this aide be doing their bidding with these slams?
The Texas senator made a similar point, saying, “I’m always impressed by the courage of anonymous congressional aides.”
Cruz is keeping up his rhetoric, quoting Winston Churchill when he told Sean Hannity, “We will fight on the beaches, we will fight on the streets.”
Now it’s really starting to sound like a war.
Tennessee GOP Sen. Bob Corker did put his name to some criticism, tweeting: “I didn’t go to Harvard or Princeton, but I can count — the defunding box canyon is a tactic that will fail and weaken our position.” (You can figure out which Ivy League schools Cruz attended.)
A day after the Wall Street Journal chided the House GOP “kamikazes,” Karl Rove added his voice in that paper, saying the impact of a shutdown would be worse than the Newt-led one in 1995.
“Any strategy to repeal, delay or replace the law must have a credible chance of succeeding or affecting broad public opinion positively,” says Rove, also a Fox News contributor. “The defunding strategy doesn't. Going down that road would strengthen the president while alienating independents. It is an ill-conceived tactic, and Republicans should reject it.”
The Cruz contingent undoubtedly views the Journal, Rove and the House GOP leadership as part of the out-of-touch elite.
And the media, lacking a U.S. war against Syria, are delighted to watch the different factions fight on the beaches and streets.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.