In the wake of President Obama's emphatic victory over the ultraconservatives determined to kill his Affordable Care Act, he has as much interest as moderate Republicans do in seeing these ideological zealots cut down to size.
Mr. Obama has wisely restrained himself from gloating, declaring a bit ingenuously that there was no "winner" in ending the most recent government shutdown. Still, his firm stand against his foes' attempt to hold him hostage over it was vindicated. It served notice that he's learned the lesson of his earlier disinclination to hold his ground.
The president will have another opportunity soon to demonstrate the point in the next round to deal with the budget and extension of the federal debt limit. The real political showdown, however, is not likely to come until next year's congressional elections, when control of both the House and Senate will be at stake.
In the meantime, the moderate Republicans in Congress need to do what they reasonably can to diminish the influence of the partisan obstructionists within their own ranks. Their party has clearly been the loser in the shutdown, and the moderates must consider now how they can assert their influence in restoring the GOP as a cooperative partner on Capitol Hill.
Where that leadership will come from, though, is anybody's guess. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell escaped with some stature in his negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that wrested the shutdown decision from the House, the prime impediment to an agreement. But Mr. McConnell has his own troubles with a tea party challenger in his 2014 party primary in Kentucky.
In the House, Speaker John Boehner tried repeatedly but ultimately failed to appease the diehard Republican ultraconservatives there. At best, he gained some reluctant gratitude from them in trying to accommodate their insistence that Obamacare be defunded. The betting now is that he will survive as speaker, but with no potential to lead the party out of its present divisions.
One major embarrassment for him and for all House Republicans is the way the intruder from the other side of the Capitol, freshman Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, has boldly seized leadership of the tea party faction in the House. His gall in going there to rally a cause that had no chance of success from the start was in itself startling.
Senator Cruz has managed in his short time in the Senate to make himself the embodiment of a highly combustible mission not seen here since the flamboyant grasp for political power by Sen. Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin half a century ago. McCarthy's rampage as a fearless but reckless and ruthless fanner of the flames of anticommunism was doused only by his own excesses and eventual senatorial opposition.
Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, after earlier turning the other cheek, finally pushed back and defended the U.S. against McCarthy's allegations, and the senator was censured by his colleagues in 1954. (The special committee that recommended censure was chaired by Sen. Arthur Watkins, a Republican from Utah.) But as early as 1950, seven Senate Republicans, led by Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, had decried the McCarthyite "philosophy that lacks political integrity or intellectual honesty."
Today, Mr. Cruz' one-man assault on President Obama and more significantly on the leadership of his own party, both in the Senate and across the Capitol in the House, personifies a new McCarthyism on the Hill. It requires a similar intervention by the moderate voices among the congressional Republicans if the party is to restore its own reputation as a partner in responsible governance.
Some will argue that Mr. Obama, as president, should remain above any personal confrontation with a single senator low on the totem pole as a freshman, leaving it to the Republicans to deal with Mr. Cruz. Such a presidential intervention, it will be said, will only elevate the brash Texan in the national spotlight, encouraging him to engage with Mr. Obama as a political equal.
But in the 1950s, Eisenhower learned the hard way that trying to ignore Joe McCarthy only encouraged him to press on with his phony attacks on communist infiltration of the Eisenhower State Department and elsewhere. Cruzism has not yet sunk to similar depths today. But the looks and smell of it are all too familiar to any observers of the era of McCarthyism still around.
Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2015, CT Now