Rand Paul and Ted Cruz Speeches Mark Shift in GOP Leadership

Rand Paul (left) and Ted Cruz (right) // Credit: Gage Skidmore Rand Paul (left) and Ted Cruz (right) // Credit: Gage Skidmore[/caption]

With the two lengthiest speeches in the US Senate in 2013, two Senators participated in a change in the direction of the Republican Party.

In March, Kentucky’s Rand Paul spoke for approximately 13 hours holding up the nomination of CIA director-designate John Brennan. Part of what made Paul’s filibuster newsworthy was that drones and President Obama’s policy of targeted assassinations had largely gone unreported and untouched. Paul also picked up support from Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, progressives like actor John Cusack, as well as liberal columnists and editorial boards.

Paul’s efforts to bring up civil liberties was just the first in a series of events that speak to a changing dynamic over national security powers.

Paul’s speech was in March: it was before Edward Snowden’s identity was revealed, before news of the collection of AP phone records, and before news about the investigation of Fox News journalist James Rosen became widespread.

Since then, Michigan U.S. Rep. Justin Amash conducted a serious effort to defund the surveillance programs of the NSA. California U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat, introduced legislation to add a voice for the people before the secretive FISA Court.

Even the administration’s attempt to intervene in Syria was halted by Republicans, with Paul as its face, as well as public opposition that spanned all party affiliations. All represented revolts against the status quo of Washington’s national security powers.

Perhaps most important of all, Rand Paul’s filibuster produced an answer. The premise of his speech was to decipher whether it was legal for the president to target a suspected, unindicted terrorist in a public place like a cafe. The day after his 13-hour talk, Paul received his answer that the president cannot assassinate an American citizen under those conditions.

It is still early, but the earliest effects of Ted Cruz’s speech points to few upcoming changes either to the implementation or execution of the health care law.

What it did mark was a potential shift in the party between the old guard establishment and the newcomers. While House Speaker John Boehner had effectively delayed “ObamaCare” to debt ceiling negotiations, the House ended up passing a continuing resolution with Cruz’s plan of defunding the Affordable Care Act.

At The American Conservative, Jim Antle notes that although Cruz is a non-member, he is acting like their leader in the lower chamber. The speaker has needed Democratic votes “in almost every major stand-off with the Obama administration – the previous government shutdown scare, the sequester, and the fiscal cliff – Boehner has struggled to corral rambunctious House conservatives.”

A closed-door meeting from July revealed that Cruz did not expect to win the battle, but hoped to change the debate. Yet, with a government shutdown, the early returns suggest that Cruz did not change the debate in the way Rand Paul did. In fact, more Americans said the would blame Republicans for it. Altogether, blame may be easier to place on the GOP by making an upheld law the tipping point of the shutdown.

The Rand Paul and Ted Cruz speeches both mark changes within the party, although for differing reasons. The effect Paul made was immediate and had continuing effects. It is early for Cruz, but where he succeeded most was in burnishing his credentials as a partisan.