Yes, the gloves are definitely off

Yesterday, I wrote about the fight between Chris Christie and Rand Paul. It began on the substantive, and vital, issue of domestic anti-terrorism surveillance policy, and quickly became personal.

Now another intra-Party fight, on a completely different vital issue, has broken out and is becoming personal. Ted Cruz is attacking fellow Republican Senators who disagree with his proposal to bring about a shutdown of the government in order, Cruz hopes, to halt Obamacare.

Politico reports that Cruz’s chief of staff criticized fellow conservatives like Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn for serving in the “surrender caucus.” At the same time, Cruz’s top political strategist has lumped Mitch McConnell with Barack Obama, and contrasted them with Cruz, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul. And Cruz has said that many Republicans are “scared” to wage this fight.

Cruz’s comment simply states a fact. But putting McConnell in the Obama camp seems like a bit much, especially since all Republicans should want McConnell reelected in 2014 if, as is quite likely, he receives the Republican nomination.

Some of Cruz’s Republican critics are firing back with blows that strike me as below the belt. A former top Senate Republican aide told Politico that the dispute “is about promoting Ted Cruz’s presidential ambitions, and he and his team are making clear that retaining the House or winning back a Senate GOP majority are all secondary to that goal.”

Unlike the Christie-Paul debate over surveillance, the clash over how far to go in trying to thwart Obamacare is a tactical one. Those who disagree with Cruz’s approach are concerned (or “scared,” as Cruz puts it) that Republicans will be blamed for a government shutdown; that this might very well translate into the Democrats gaining control of the House in 2015; and that, as a result, Obama’s last two years in office will produce additional legislative outrages.

These concerns are not irrational. Reasonable people can disagree about how seriously one should take them and how they are to be weighed against the potential rewards of the course Cruz proposes. I’m still debating these considerations with myself.

The debate among Republicans about whether to bring on a government shutdown will be vigorous, as it should be. But demonization of one’s fellow Republicans is better suited for core ideological debates than for debates about tactics.

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