Polls Show Shutdown Taking a Toll on Ted Cruz, Mike Lee

As the debate to end the shutdown drifts further from Obamacare, some who pushed hardest for its concessions may face political consequences.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 03: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) walks through the U.S. Capitol, October 3, 2013 in Washington, DC. Democrats and Republicans are still at a stalemate on funding for the federal government as the shut down goes into third day.
National Journal
Michael Catalini Sophie Novack
Michael Catalini Sophie Novack
Oct. 10, 2013, 3:25 p.m.

As the de­bate over re­open­ing gov­ern­ment and avoid­ing de­fault drifts fur­ther away from Obama­care, some who ad­voc­ated loudest for the plan to force Obama­care con­ces­sions on Demo­crats and the White House may start to feel re­per­cus­sions.

“The Sen­ate is a small enough body where over a re­l­at­ively short peri­od of time, you de­vel­op a pres­ence and a repu­ta­tion based on the ac­tions that you take,” said Sen. Johnny Isak­son, R-Ga. “That can have an ef­fect pos­it­ively or oth­er­wise on what you can do later on. When we’re elec­ted, we’re known for what we were. When you serve in the Sen­ate you’re known for what you are.”

While law­makers are re­luct­ant to openly snipe at Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, and their co­horts in the House, the strategy many say had no en­dgame has left a bit­ter taste be­hind.

“My per­son­al view is that we got in a fight we couldn’t win, and in the minor­ity that’s not a good place to be,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. “You need to pick your battles, and you need to pick your battles with the pres­id­ent in a way that you have a chance to achieve your goal.”

Even sen­at­ors aligned with the tea party have harsh words for the plan. “To me this con­firms what my mes­sage is, that this place is ut­terly broken and dys­func­tion­al,” said Sen. Ron John­son of Wis­con­sin.

Blunt sug­ges­ted that the im­pact may dis­sip­ate over time, and cer­tainly be­fore the next elec­tion. “I don’t know at this point it has a lot of real long-term im­pact,” he said.

But polls show the shut­down is tak­ing a toll on Cruz and Lee. Cruz’s net fa­vor­ab­il­ity plummeted 16 points since June, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Gal­lup poll. Roughly 36 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans have an un­fa­vor­able opin­ion of the ju­ni­or sen­at­or from Texas, while 26 per­cent have a fa­vor­able view, Gal­lup re­por­ted. A new poll out from Brigham Young Uni­versity shows Lee’s fa­vor­ab­il­ity down 10 points since June. Voters now see him un­fa­vor­ably, 51 per­cent to 40 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the poll.

Asked wheth­er Lee should hold to his prin­ciples in the gov­ern­ment shut­down or com­prom­ise on the Af­ford­able Care Act, 57 per­cent said he should be more will­ing to com­prom­ise, while 43 per­cent prefer he stick to his prin­ciples.

Still, Cruz stands be­hind his strategy, con­vinced it’s a win­ner, even as the debt-lim­it de­bate be­gins to come to the fore. “Obama­care re­mains Sen­at­or Cruz’s top fo­cus,” said Cruz spokes­wo­man Cath­er­ine Fra­zi­er. “We un­der­stand that our debt is un­pop­u­lar, but Obama­care is un­pop­u­lar too. If we stop Obama­care, we’ll have more jobs and de­crease the debt. It’s a win-win.”

Lee also re­mains com­mit­ted to the plan, and main­tains that there has not par­tic­u­larly been push­back from fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans. “Re­pub­lic­ans are in the driver’s seat now,” said Lee’s com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or, Bri­an Phil­lips.

Ac­cord­ing to Phil­lips, the rocky first couple weeks of the ACA’s rol­lout sup­port the strategy. “It makes more sense for Re­pub­lic­ans to fight against Obama­care now. It’s no longer con­jec­ture about the ill ef­fects of the law.”

“Sen­at­or Lee is go­ing to let oth­er people worry about poll num­bers,” Phil­lips said, in ref­er­ence to the BYU find­ings. “He only wor­ries about the people call­ing in­to the of­fice, who are over­whelm­ingly in fa­vor of what he’s do­ing.”

For now, out­side groups re­main sup­port­ive of Cruz and Lee’s strategy. Her­it­age Ac­tion re­leased a state­ment Thursday re­af­firm­ing its com­mit­ment to fight­ing Obama­care through the on­go­ing fisc­al battles. “We do not sup­port clean debt ceil­ing in­creases, but be­cause Her­it­age Ac­tion is com­mit­ted to giv­ing House Lead­er­ship the flex­ib­il­ity they need to re­fo­cus the de­bate on Obama­care we will not key vote against the re­por­ted pro­pos­al,” CEO Mi­chael Need­ham wrote.

Wheth­er Cruz, Lee, and oth­ers have done long-term dam­age to their re­la­tion­ships with fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans is un­clear, but when GOP law­makers are asked, they of­ten point out two things: one, that re­la­tion­ships mat­ter, and two, that you can’t rule out work­ing to­geth­er again someday.

“I’ve been in one le­gis­lature or an­oth­er for 34 years, either in the state or in Con­gress, and most all you can do is based on your ac­cu­mu­lated repu­ta­tion and your will­ing­ness to work with oth­er people,” Isak­son said. “I’ve al­ways tried to be one that real­ized even a broken clock is right twice every 24 hours, so don’t ever rule any­body out.”

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