Pete King calls for a Republican war on Ted Cruz

Pete King, giving an interview. (Flickr)
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Rep. Peter King thinks Republicans in the House could have bargained for much more than they're getting in a pending Senate deal, if only the House had kept the government open in September and focused on negotiations over the federal debt limit.

"Instead we look like the crazies," King, a Republican from Long Island, told me this afternoon from Washington. "Shutting down the government, throwing barricades against the White House, and having Ted Cruz reading Dr. Seuss, this is like the theater of the absurd. Except that it's serious."

King has been a fairly lonely (and ineffectual, so far) voice of dissent within the Republican conference, loudly criticizing the party's strategy of allowing a group of hardline conservatives to dictate a shutdown in the hope of pressuring President Obama to make changes to his signature health care law.

For that King blames Cruz, the freshman senator from Texas, who King believes Republicans need to target, starting now.

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"I don't mean this in an egotistical way, I'm the only one who's been going after Cruz by name," King told me. "And there's a purpose for that, because this is going to come back again in two or three months, whether it's January 15 or February 7 or whatever, there's going to be a threat of another shutdown.

"And he's going to be coming back, rewriting history, saying, 'We were on the verge of victory back in October, and we could have won if we'd just stayed in there another week.' And he's going to have phone calls being made, and he's going to have town hall meetings. And he's going to have all those support groups out there, threatening to downgrade people on their scorecards and all that stuff." 

To King, the fault doesn't lie broadly with Congress, but falls squarely on Cruz and his 30 or 40 "acolytes," who put pressure on other Republicans.

"I think it's important for people in the Republican Party around the country not to just come in at the end and say, 'Congress was dysfunctional,' or 'Congress screwed up.' That's too easy to do," King said. "Say who it was. Because it wasn't Congress. It was one person who was able to steamroll Congress and unless we target him for what he is, he's going to do it again. So I'm hoping other Republicans will join me and start going after this guy, and say we're not going to let it happen again."

Republican leaders, including 2016 candidates like Chris Christie, Scott Walker and Jeb Bush, have criticized the dysfunction to varying degrees, but none have specifically attacked Cruz, who has become a darling of the Tea Party constituency that could be a big factor in a future primary.

King said the "business community, other people, guys running for president, governors around the country, retired members of Congress, elder statesmen, whoever considers himself to be a leader in the Republican Party should be out there" making the case against Cruz.

King said he wouldn't "second-guess" House Speaker John Boehner's role in the impasse, and that the conservative faction doesn't have the votes to topple him.

"They may try," he said. "But they don't have the ability to go after John Bohner. What they can do is create enough chaos, which maybe makes it difficult for him to govern, and then it's important for the rest of us to stand by him."

"There's nobody out there they could get behind who could take over right now," King added. "John gave these guys enough rope to hang themselves, and if other Republicans aren't smart enough to see that these guys did hang themselves and pretty much hung the Republican Party while they're at it--I think we should stand behind Boehner. He warned this was going to happen all along."

Cruz said today that he won't delay the Senate vote, and criticized the Senate for not helping change the outcome.

"Unfortunately, the Senate chose not to follow the House and in particular, we saw real division among Senate Republicans. That was unfortunate," Cruz said, according to TPM. "I would point out that had Senate Republicans united and supported House Republicans, the outcome of this, I believe, would have been very, very different. I wish that had happened, but it did not."