Ted Cruz and Rand Paul: A Tale of Two Shutdown Strategies

Cruz won't give an inch, but Paul knows Republicans have to negotiate.

Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, left, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., wait to speak at the 'Exempt America from Obamacare' rally, on Capitol Hill, Sept. 10, 2013, in Washington, D.C.
By + More

If purism turns out to be the great enemy of the Republican primary in 2016, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has placed himself on the wrong side of history.

[READ: What Ted Cruz’s Obamacare Stand Means for the Tea Party]

The GOP idealist has been the front man of the shutdown, the face of the war against Obamacare. From his summer tour to his 21-hour filibuster impersonation, to his private meetings with House Republicans, Cruz has become synonymous with the House GOP's strategy – so much so that Democrats in Congress have dubbed him Speaker Cruz.

Cruz has taken a gamble, betting his hand that Republican presidential primary voters are hungry for his brand of GOP activism. It's not the first time he has taken on the establishment against the odds, after all, if the Republican power brokers in Texas had had their way, he wouldn't have made it out of his own Senate primary in 2012.

But Cruz is being beat up on the Senate floor and behind closed doors by his fellow Republicans who have accused him of driving the GOP off a political cliff without any plan to repair the brand or a road map of where he is headed next. During a GOP luncheon Wednesday, reports indicate Cruz heard an earful from senators who were fed up of what they deemed a selfish conquest.

"There's a lot of consultants making money off this and lots of TV ads going on. The problem with it is, it's one thing to be good at politics. It's another thing to be not good at strategy," Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., told CNN.

[ALSO: Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and the Future of GOP Foreign Policy]

Meanwhile, a potential 2016 rival, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is diving into the shutdown as a negotiator. Thursday morning, Paul called upon lawmakers from both parties to meet with him on the Capitol steps for a cup of coffee and an airing of grievances. In the end only one Democrat, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., made an appearance, but the literal singing of "Kumbayah" added a brief respite from the bitterness of the shutdown.

Up until the final minutes of the shutdown, Paul was trying to convince congressional leaders to pass a short, one or two week funding bill to stave off a shutdown. Something, he said, that would have allowed a little more time for negotiations.

This, of course, could be his own political strategy. Paul was caught on a hot mic Thursday discussing his concerns about the shutdown with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. He openly confessed he is concerned about how the GOP is perceived. After explaining to McConnell how a recent interview he had taken part in went, Paul told his senior senator it's time for Republicans to start looking for an exit strategy regarding their efforts to defund Obamacare.

"I think if we keep saying, 'we wanted to defund it. We fought for that, but now we're willing to compromise on this," Paul explained. "I know we don't want to be here, but we are gonna win this, I think."

GOP pundits watching the events unfold, say that Paul has positioned himself in a much more amiable position than Cruz.

[MORE: Why a Government Shutdown Is Good for Ted Cruz ]

"This is a very important battle in the long-term war leading up to the 2016 presidential primaries. This is an important moment where different Republicans thrust in the spotlight can demonstrate leadership and the ability to coalesce different factions of the right," says GOP strategist Brian Donahue.

Donahue argues that while a few conservatives will certainly be absolutists on the question of defunding Obamacare, independents will be weary of a candidate who was willing to bring the country to the precipice of a shutdown to delay Obamacare, a law that passed in 2010 and upheld by the Supreme Court.

"Some voters do believe that a government shutdown is just plain bad, and they don't want the Republicans to be seen as the party of 'no.' They are the ones who are going to be cheering Rand Paul's approach," Donahue says.

More News:

  • Vogue Says Rand Paul Wears Dad Jeans
  • Ted Cruz Eschewed ‘Lesser Ivies’ While at Harvard, GQ Profile Reveals