Agenda Texas
8:10 am
Thu October 17, 2013

For Texas' Ted Cruz, Shutdown Ends with Little Political Damage

The federal government shutdown is over, for now. But the battle over who gets the blame for the congressional meltdown will likely extend through the 2014 party primaries and general election. So how did the shutdown affect the political landscape in Texas?

A recent Rasmussen poll found 78 percent of the country would vote to get rid of the entire Congress and start over. And yesterday, the Houston Chronicle expressed regret for its endorsement of Sen.Ted Cruz in the 2012 Senate race. Sounds like there are dark days ahead for our Congressional incumbents in Texas.

Actually … no, says Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith.

“I don’t believe that any Texas politician suffers from this government shutdown," Smith says.

Let’s start with Sen. Cruz. Democrats are trying to saddle him with all the blame for the shutdown, pointing to his 21-hour speech that preceded the whole affair. But back in Texas, he’s still considered a hero to his Tea Party base.

"You know when the Washington Post and the New York Times and John McCain hate on Ted Cruz, it’s like they’re spinach and he’s Popeye. It makes him stronger," Smith says.

And Cruz doesn’t have to worry about re-election until 2018, or maybe a Presidential run until 2016. Too far down the road for voters to hold a grudge says UT-Austin pollster Jim Henson.

But what about that poll that showed 78 percent of voters wanted a brand new Congress. Well, traditionally, the next question in that poll is, "would you get rid of your Congressman?" And over the years, the answer has been no.

“That has traditionally been the pattern where people are contemptuous of Congress but tend to love their Congressman. And one of the ways that we see that expressed is in very high incumbent reelection rates," Henson says.

But if there is going to be any backlash, Texas’ March primaries provide an opportunity. Especially since the shutdown deal brokered in Washington creates another debt ceiling deadline in February. Henson says any politician in trouble over the shutdown will be hard at work repairing the damage.

“And I think in the interim what we’ll see is members of congress and the President for that matter, looking at the public opinion polls and wetting their finger and putting it in the wind to see which way it’s going. And that is going to frame responses when we revisit some of these issues, which is what it looks like early next year," Henson says.

But even if there is anger at Tea Party lawmakers, Evan Smith doesn’t think there’s much the state’s Republican majority can do about it.

“The way that politics is set up in Texas, while there may be angry people in the Republican party at some of those Tea Party supported members of Congress, the reality is that there’s no credible opportunity to challenge anybody from the left in a Republican Primary today," Smith says.

And the state’s gerrymandered congressional mean most incumbents have been drawn into districts their party is virtually guaranteed to win. So unless an incumbent loses in the primary, there’s little chance of losing in the general election.