How a Fiscal Truce Rekindled Republicans’ Civil War


The Wall Street Journal editorial page was even harsher. It labeled Cruz "the minority maker," suggesting that he was trying to unseat colleagues by putting them in untenable political positions. (The editorial was tweeted out by, among others, Sen. McCain.)

"Mr. Cruz claims to be neutral in Senate primaries, but he knew exactly what he was doing," the editorial read. "Democrats beat the odds and retained their Senate majority in 2010 and 2012 in part because they stuck together. If Republicans fail again this November, a big reason will be their rump kamikaze caucus."

But the tea party movement is just as fired up. McConnell's tea party challenger, Matt Bevin, called it "financially reckless behavior."

Matt Kibbe, president and CEO of the tea party group FreedomWorks, called it a "defining vote" that will energize attempts to unseat McConnell and other Republicans who voted for a higher debt ceiling.

"This was a big deal," Kibbe told ABC News. "It fires up the base, it fires up activists, it fires up challengers who want to come to Washington and do the right thing."

Cruz himself seems to agree. He told conservative radio host Mark Levin that his colleagues were only angry at him because his maneuver stymied their attempts to tell "what they view as their foolish, gullible constituents back home they didn't do it."

"It's like they think the American people are just a bunch of rubes. That we don't remember what they say," Cruz said of his fellow Republican senators.

McConnell fired back on Friday, blaming the House's actions for limiting his choices to "a clean debt ceiling in the Senate, or default." He touted his own leadership in navigating the multiple fiscal confrontations of the past few years.

"I believe I have to act in the best interests of the country," McConnell told ABC News Louisville affiliate WHAS-TV. "And every time we've been confronted with a potential crisis, the guy you're looking at is the one who's stepped up to solve the problem."

That's not flying among tea partiers, though. To his donors and volunteers, Kibbe said, the vote "separated the good guys from the bad guys."

He said the fallout will carry beyond the primaries and even the general election. Pressure will build on members of the House and Senate to replace leaders -- such as Boehner and McConnell -- who caved on their initial demands, he said.

"We think we need to repopulate the Republican Party. We need to add more fiscal conservatives to the House and to the Senate -- and that leads to new leadership," Kibbe said.

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