Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: It’s true. No one likes Ted Cruz


It’s been a brutal two months for the GOP

Just how brutal have the last two months been for the Republican Party and the conservative movement?

The party’s biggest donor (Sheldon Adelson) passed away.

So did its most influential communicator over the last 25 years (Rush Limbaugh).

Its two most recognizable leaders (Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell) are in a feud over the former president’s role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

State parties are censuring any Republican who dared to vote to impeach Trump or find him guilty, which Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the No. 2 Senate Republican, says amounts to “cancel culture.”

And the state that’s become the leading example of conservative governance (Texas) finds itself in tatters after its power crisis, and its junior U.S. senator (Ted Cruz) has been ridiculed and scorned.


Ryan Cooper/The Week:

The Texas blizzard nightmare is Republican governance in a nutshell

The United States is still in the middle of a murderous pandemic, and Texas has been suffering its worst power blackout in at least a decade, during a brutally cold winter storm. Lights were finally coming back on for many on Thursday, but still hundreds of thousands of people were without power or water — some since Sunday night. At least 21 people have died.

So Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) knew what to do: quietly nip down to Cancun for a bit of rest and relaxation. Numerous people on the plane recognized him, and the story was later confirmed by Fox News and NBC. It sparked an immediate political firestorm, and Cruz slunk back on Thursday. In a statement, he claimed he was simply following a request from his daughter — but he reportedly moved up his return date from Saturday only after the story spread.

It was all darkly amusing. But what Cruz did is emblematic of the Republican Party’s mode of governance. The reason Cruz felt comfortable leaving Texans to freeze solid on the sidewalks of Houston is the same reason the Texas power grid crumpled under the winter storm. Theirs is a party in which catering to the welfare of one’s constituents, or indeed any kind of substantive political agenda, has been supplanted by propaganda, culture war grievance, and media theatrics. Neither he nor anybody else in a leadership position in the party knows or cares about how to build a reliable power grid. They just want to get rich owning the libs.


Top Texas Republicans on the ropes after tone-deaf storm response

The swaggering, Texas brand of free-market governance that’s central to the state’s political identity is taking a beating.

It’s more than just a public relations crisis for the three politicians. The storm has also battered the swaggering, Texas brand of free-market governance that’s central to the state’s political identity on the national stage.

“Texans are angry and they have every right to be. Failed power, water and communications surely took some lives,” JoAnn Fleming, a Texas conservative activist and executive director of a group called Grassroots America, said in a text message exchange with POLITICO.

“The Texas electric grid is not secure,” said Fleming, pointing out that lawmakers “have been talking about shoring up/protecting the Texas electric grid for THREE legislative sessions (6 yrs),” but “every session special energy interests kill the bills with Republicans in charge … Our politicians spend too much time listening to monied lobbyists & political consultants. Not enough time actually listening to real people.”

Chad Prather, a popular Republican humorist who is running for governor against Abbott next year, echoed similar sentiments about the three politicians.

“There’s no question that this is a case of failing to relate to the people of Texas,” said Prather, who is a host on the conservative network Blaze TV.

“I believe the person with the biggest consequence is going to be Greg Abbott,” Prather said. “The underlying murmur is that he, too, will make a presidential run and the governorship has become much of an afterthought. It would seem we are a little vacant at the top. At least that’s how many feel.”

David Leonhardt/NY Times:

And what else you need to know today.

If you’re a regular reader of this newsletter, you’re probably familiar with the idea of vaccine alarmism. It goes something like this:

The coronavirus vaccines aren’t 100 percent effective. Vaccinated people may still be contagious. And the virus variants may make everything worse. So don’t change your behavior even if you get a shot.

Much of this message has some basis in truth, but it is fundamentally misleading. The evidence so far suggests that a full dose of the vaccine — with the appropriate waiting period after the second shot — effectively eliminates the risk of Covid-19 death, nearly eliminates the risk of hospitalization and drastically reduces a person’s ability to infect somebody else. All of that is also true about the virus’s new variants.

Yet the alarmism continues. And now we are seeing its real-world costs: Many people don’t want to get the vaccine partly because it sounds so ineffectual.


Emily Stewart/Vox:

Congress is writing up Biden’s stimulus plan. Here’s what’s in it.

Stimulus checks, UI, and a $15 minimum wage: the state of the House’s stimulus bill, so far.

The biggest ticket items have been among the most contentious: Though there was some discussion of further targeting for stimulus checks, the House proposal winds up pretty close to Biden’s original plan. The $1,400 stimulus checks are for those making up to $75,000 a year, and the checks phase out at $100,000 yearly income (there has been quite a bit of back-and-forth over whether to aim them more precisely at lower-income people).

The expanded weekly unemployment benefits are currently set at $300 and expire on March 14; this bill expands them to $400 through August 29 and extends pandemic-related benefits for freelancers and contractors, along with extended state benefits, for the same period. That shaves one month off Biden’s proposal.

One big question mark in the House proposal is the federal minimum wage, which the bill would raise to $15 an hour by 2025. There are important questions as to whether a minimum wage hike can get through the reconciliation process and make it past the Senate parliamentarian, but for now, at least, Democrats are determined to fight for it. “Our strategy is to make an aggressive case with the parliamentarian,” one Democratic Senate aide said, noting Republicans were able to include work requirements for beneficiaries of social programs and open up Arctic wildlife refuges in past reconciliation bills. “These were some pretty outlandish policies that were able to pass muster.”

Richard North Patterson/Bulwark:

To Save Democracy, Principled Conservatives Must Ally with Democrats

The impulse to start a new anti-Trump conservative party or GOP splinter is admirable—but the present crisis demands a different response.

Sadly the GOP is no longer what Daniel Patrick Moynihan once labeled a party of ideas. Today it is a party of atavistic tribalism rooted in perpetuating minority rule. The indispensable prerequisite for reanimating principled conservatism is helping Democrats reanimate democracy by destroying the Republican party’s ability to destroy it.

Long before Trump, the Republican base rejected principled conservatism for cultural revanchism and white identity politics. In their gated community of the mind, falsehoods became self-validating and disagreement treasonous. Trump rose by personifying primal nihilism, rageful ignorance, and overt racism.

This GOP’s defining grievance is inherently authoritarian: that white Christian America, their presumptive birthright, is besieged by the seditious forces of intellectual and demographic diversity. Today’s pseudo-conservatism, writes Michael Gerson, “promises the recovery of a mythical past” and “feeds a sense of White victimhood.” He continues:

It emphasizes emotion over reason. It denigrates experts and expertise. It slanders outsiders and blames them for social and economic ills. It warns of global plots by Jews and shadowy elites. It accepts the lies of a leader as a deeper form of political truth. It revels in anger and dehumanization. It praises law and order while reserving the right to disobey the law and overturn the political order through violence.

That festering pathology permeates the base. A January 2020 survey by Larry Bartels of Vanderbilt found that 51 percent of Republicans agreed that “we may have to use force” to save “the traditional American way of life”—a mindset which, he concluded, is rooted in racial animus. One might imagine that last month’s deadly attack on the Capitol would impel Republicans to recoil from embracing violence. But in an AEI survey conducted after the January 6 insurrection, even more Republicans—56 percent—agreed that force may be necessary to preserve the American way of life.

Economic anxiety, eh?


James Hamblin/Atlantic:

A Quite Possibly Wonderful Summer

Families will gather. Restaurants will reopen. People will travel. The pandemic may feel like it’s behind us—even if it’s not.

The feeling could even go beyond that. The pain wrought by the virus has differed enormously by location, race, and class, but a global pandemic still may be as close as the world can come to a shared tragedy. Periods of intense hardship are sometimes followed by unique moments of collective catharsis or awakening. The 1918 influenza that left the planet short of some 50 million people—several times as many as had just been killed in a gruesome war—gave way to the Roaring ’20s, when Americans danced and flouted Prohibition, hearing the notes that weren’t being played. For some, the summer of 2021 might conjure that of 1967, when barefoot people swayed languidly in the grass, united by an appreciation for the tenuousness of life. Pre-pandemic complaints about a crowded subway car or a mediocre sandwich could be replaced by the awe of simply riding a bus or sitting in a diner. People might go out of their way to talk with strangers, merely to gaze upon the long-forbidden, exposed mouth of a speaking human.

In short, the summer could feel revelatory. The dramatic change in the trajectory and tenor of the news could give a sense that the pandemic is over. The energy of the moment could be an opportunity—or Americans could be dancing in the eye of a hurricane.

Amanda Carpenter/Bulwark:

On Cancun and the Insurrection

What is the point of being a United States Senator anyway?

That’s the Republican way these days. So what if there is a natural disaster or a pandemic? Blame the libs, dunk on them, and then go to the beach while Democrats handle the clean-up. And let the MAGA media run interference. For the Republican party, the sensationalization, nationalization, and demonization of the political system matter far more than any form of governing. Political performance is the point. Both the means and the end. The purpose and the power.

Please note that it wasn’t until the shitposting boomeranged at Cruz that he began to have second thoughts about his vacation. It seems it did not occur to him that there was anything wrong with the situation until he sat down on the plane, started scrolling, and saw outraged people posting photos of him standing at the gate. It must have been horrifying for someone who tracks his mentions so closely to become a laughingstock.

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