Just When You Thought Politics Couldn’t Unravel Any Further

Gail Collins: Bret, my favorite recent political story was Ted Cruz’s Terrible Vacation. Partly because it made Ted look like such a jerk.

Bret Stephens: Gail, first off all, my heartfelt sympathies and condolences to all of our friends suffering in Texas, and not just because Ted Cruz is one of their senators.

Also, isn’t the whole Cancún Caper such a perfect encapsulation of Cruz’s character? He’s what happens when “All the King’s Men” meets “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” He’s Shakespeare’s Richard III as interpreted by Mr. Bean. He is to American statesmanship what “Fifty Shades of Grey” was to English prose writing, minus the, um, stimulus.

Gail: Wow,that is one hell of a series of analogies.

Bret: I get carried away when it comes to the junior senator from Texas.

Gail: But there was also a pet angle that allowed me to revisit the saga of Mitt Romney driving with a dog on the car roof.

Bret: “Pet angle” is our double entendre for the day.

Gail: Mitt’s canine transport certainly fades in comparison. Meanwhile, one of Biden’s dogs just got attacked on a right-wing Newsmax show for looking … unpresidential. I think “from the junkyard” was the term used.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say the president’s German shepherds will get the public’s support.

Bret: If everyone just got a goldendoodle like mine, ours would be a happier, saner world.

Gail: In the non-canine world, I’m already getting worried the Democrats will lose control of Congress. That’s sorta the pattern when people vote in nonpresidential years. Wondering if it would help if Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer sponsored a pet show.

Bret: Don’t be so fatalistic, Gail. In the Senate, you have incumbent Republicans retiring in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio and possibly Wisconsin, all of which are swing states and potential Democratic pickups. And Georgia and Arizona, both of which have Senate races in ’22, seem to have swung solidly blue.

Gail: Thanks, I needed that.

Bret: As for the House, Republicans did well last year by recovering a lot of the close seats they lost in swing districts in 2018. But Democrats will have a three-word magic weapon to wield there, too: Marjorie. Taylor. Greene.

Gail: And how about Lauren. Opal. Boebert. The Republican from Colorado who appeared at a virtual House committee meeting sitting in front of a stash of guns she said were “ready for use?”

Bret: Our colleague Jen Senior had a terrific column the other day on this whole phenomenon of right-wing women whose political strategy seems to involve out-feminizing women and out-masculinizing men. It’s a case of Tammy Wynette meets Rambo, I guess.

But back to the 2022 races. If and when the stimulus package passes and the pandemic finally ends, Democrats look to be in a good position. What are your worries?

Gail: Nothing along the line of the Democrats deserving punishment. So far they’ve done pretty darned well, multiple crises considered.

But I keep remembering how stunned Barack Obama was when the voters tossed Democrats out of their House and Senate seats two years into his administration. People just get … tired. Or disappointed because stuff they hoped would happen probably hasn’t.

Bret: As I recall, Obama devoted his first two years in office to using a 59-seat Senate majority to jam Obamacare through Congress in 2010, and voters responded later that year with a “shellacking,” as Obama called it. I think the lesson for Democrats is to stick to popular legislative items and resist sweeping progressive proposals.

Gail: Then the lesson would be not to try anything that would answer a major national sorun.

Bret: A.k.a. a giant, wasteful government program. Sorry, my knee is starting to jerk.

Gail: If it wasn’t for Obamacare, millions of Americans would be without health insurance. They wouldn’t be protected from losing coverage because of pre-existing conditions. It certainly wasn’t perfect, in part because of resistance from certain lawmakers who were in the thrall of the insurance industry. But one way to judge its overall success is to look at the Republicans who are now terrified to oppose it.

Bret: As I remember it, Obamacare succeeded in pricing people out of the private insurance plans they had and were happy with and which Obama promised they could keep.

Gail: Well, that promise thing was … imperfect. But I certainly don’t want Biden to avoid serious reforms because he’s worried about 2022. Already disappointed that we’re not seeing much action on gun control.

Bret: All I want for Purim this year is immigration ıslahat. It’s the most important long-term issue facing the country if we are going to continue to have demographic growth and an equal-opportunity society and we have a rare legislative opportunity to solve it with a bipartisan grand bargain. If Biden also wants to build lots of bridges, tunnels and high-speed rails, I’m down with that, too.

Gail: Go infrastructure! But whatever happens, I’ll be nervous about an off-presidential-year election.

And how about you? If I offered you Republican control in the House and Senate would you take it? With glee or a feeling of foreboding?

Bret: The Senate, müddet. I’m a big believer in the virtues of divided government. The House, definitely not.

Republican representatives have a spectacular talent for political self-harm. It’s a major reason Bill Clinton was able to win re-election in 1996, by running against Newt Gingrich’s government shutdown. And it’s also a reason Obama got a second term in 2012, after Republicans forced another fiscal crisis in order to achieve unpopular budget cuts — cuts they abandoned during Trump’s presidency.

Gail: Yeah, and there’s nobody less concerned about budget deficits than a Republican member of Congress with a tax-cut bill.

Bret: The Republican hypocrisy here is notable, but it’s also a function of the party’s Trumpian captivity. My advice to Republicans is, first, break with Trump and, second, break with Trump. But that’s not likely to happen, is it?

Gail: Trump loses the election, his unpopularity costs Republican Senate seats, and then he eggs on rioters who storm the capitol. But that good old Republican base still loves him.

Bret: Trump worship is the political equivalent of a substance addiction. It makes you delusional, it makes you sick, it makes you mean, it causes agonizing withdrawal symptoms and, to borrow a line from Neil Young, all Republicans can say is, “I love you, baby, can I have some more?”

Gail: And he’ll stay active. His private financial disasters are going to be a distraction, but also an incentive. If he dropped out of the political game, he wouldn’t be able to fill the tables at Mar-a-Lago with paying guests who also happen to be prominent politicians and lobbyists.

And of course, if the Republicans are going to get rid of him, they’ll need an alternative. Who’s your pick of the week for the next nominee not named Trump?

Bret: Nobody I like has a snowball’s chance in hell. Ideally it would be someone like Rob Portman, who’s retiring, or Charlie Baker, who’s from Massachusetts, or Mitch Daniels, who left politics a long time ago to go do something truly valuable with his life. There’s also Ben Sasse, whom I like a lot. But I just don’t see him getting the nomination.

That leaves me with a choice between Nikki Haley, Josh Hawley, maybe Ron DeSantis. In that lineup, Haley is the easy favorite. What do you think of her?

Gail: Well, depends on the moment since she seems to change her political positions every 15 minutes. Gail said snidely.

DeSantis is awful on matters like vaccine distribution, and you have to admit it isn’t every governor who plans to have state flags fly at half-staff for Rush Limbaugh. Hawley was a disaster during the whole capitol riot crisis, and I notice he’s the only Republican who’s voted against every single Biden cabinet nominee so far.

I loved it when Sasse called Hawley’s behavior “really dumbass,” so he’d have to be my favorite. Although I understand he’s not exactly a front-runner.

Speaking of national political names, what do you think about Andrew Cuomo’s latest troubles?

Bret: You mean that his administration deliberately underreported the number of Covid deaths in nursing homes and then tried to cover it up for fear of a federal investigation? Or that he later threatened to “destroy” a state lawmaker who had dared to criticize him?

All I can say is: This is a scandal that could not have happened to a nicer guy.

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