Obama, Cruz and Christie Walk Into a Bar

The shutdown was no joke, but what these three have in common is a real punchline.

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Barack Obama; Ted Cruz; Chris Christie (Getty Images)

(The Root) -- After all that, there were really no winners in the shutdown fight because there was no appreciable policy outcome. And come early February 2014, we'll repeat it all over again since Republicans who didn't get anything are going to want their pound of flesh in the next quarter. But looking over the scarred battlefield of the Gettysburg remake that should have never been, there's nothing like keeping the political score in our aimless attempt to find closure. So who were the winners and losers in this silly round of Russian roulette?

Winners

President Obama. Watching the president's signature legislative style is like watching a gritty spaghetti Western flick. Let the drunken cowboys beat themselves into a pulp while the mysterious lone gunman at the bar sips his shot of whiskey. It was the most masterful play of the entire episode: fooling conservatives into thinking he was left impotent from a mixed outcome on Syria combined with remnants of perceived caving on previous debt-ceiling and fiscal-cliff fights.

Obviously, that wasn't the case, and congressional Republicans were sucker-smacked by a suddenly stubborn and resilient POTUS who seemed more than happy to face them in a High Noon-style duel. Some blasted the president for keeping his distance from the fray, save the occasional check-in at the White House. But letting Congress hash it out kept him far enough away to keep his low poll numbers stabilized and close enough to give a rather bold black Caesar press conference stroll hours before the final House vote.

The Affordable Care Act (aka "Why Are Democrats Calling It 'Obamacare,' Too?"). Had it not been for the shutdown mess, newspaper front pages and talk-show panels would have been preoccupied with the unfolding disaster of a program rollout that is Healthcare.gov. Republicans, too split and too loose to play their strategy smart, missed an enormous opportunity to finally prove "Obamacare" was not living up to its expectations. But no one would know, thanks to the GOP-manufactured shutdown and debt-ceiling crisis.  

Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The Senate majority leader and minority leader were like Oscar and Felix in The Odd Couple, each despising the other but able to work it out in the end. The result was a fairly functional Senate that passed compromise bills on two occasions even when a dysfunctional House wasn't having it. Reid's boxing background served him well in this episode, giving him the intestinal fortitude to absorb blows from both his left and right. 

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Clearly, it was Texan megalomaniac Cruz who, overnight, became public political enemy No. 1 for his central role in devising the scheme to defund Obamacare. But think about it: Did you know who Cruz was before the shutdown standoff? Exactly. Cruz might have known he'd never get the Affordable Care Act's head on a spear, and he probably knew the final act: a frantic, 11th-hour move to snatch us back from the brink. People assume Cruz really wants to be a legislator. But demagogues are not lawmakers; they are enthusiastic political martyrs who thrive on climatic last stands even as the ship is sinking. This was merely the fast track to fame, millions more dollars in contributions and speaking fees, millions more email addresses to spam.

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The 2016 Republican primary rat pack: Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Chris Christie. Because, for the most part, they kept their mouths shut. Christie, a Republican governor winning re-election in a very blue state (and during the shutdown debacle, no less), was able to keep his brand intact without breaking a sweat -- even as his own party collapsed on itself. Paul, once vilified as a filibustering libertarian menace, was strangely quiet and self-sidelined, eager to let his friend Cruz take the heat. Rising star Rubio uttered barely a whisper. Each protected the brand and his chances for 2016, and each was well aware that it takes more than a primary to win a race.

Cory Booker. The tweet-crazy, superstar mayor from Newark, N.J., knows he should have whipped Republican challenger and no-name Steve Lonegan by way more than just 10 points on the same night Congress averted disaster. But it was the shutdown that ultimately saved Booker and further tainted Lonegan's unapologetic Tea Party style. Shut Twitter off, Cory -- you have serious work to do between now and your next election.

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