A true cynic about American politics would, at this point, be forced to one conclusion: Sen. Ted Cruz is a Democratic sleeper agent. It is tough to appreciate just how much good Ted Cruz has done the Democrats over these last few weeks.
• He convinced Republicans to shut down the government rather than wait and fight over the debt ceiling, where they would have had more — and more dangerous — leverage.
• He splintered the Republican Party such that, from day one, it was clear that the GOP leadership opposed the strategy they were executing, and GOP senators were publicly blasting House Republicans. That also cut the GOP's leverage.
• He made this a fight over defunding Obamacare, which polls showed was a wildly unpopular reason to shut down the government, and which united Democrats against him.
• He shut the government down on Oct. 1, the same day Obamacare began, thus distracting the American people from the law's catastrophic rollout.
• He drove the Republican Party to its lowest levels of popularity ever recorded in polls.
• The culmination of the strategy, today, is that Republicans are reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling in return for … nothing.
Democrats managed to get the budget conference they've been pursuing for six months. They got a continuing resolution of the length they wanted and ending before the next sequestration cuts, rather than the six-month CR that Sen. Susan Collins proposed. They got a debt-ceiling increase all the way into February. This is far beyond what Democrats thought possible on Sept. 30.
But the strategy Ted Cruz managed to force on the GOP was so suicidal that Democrats felt comfortable forcing Republicans to cave completely. They were so confident that they managed to reject a deal proposed by Collins and supported by many Senate Democrats because it funded the government for longer than the Democratic leadership preferred. That's a level of control over the outcome that Democrats never expected to have.
Going forward, not only will Republicans be afraid to shut down the government or threaten the debt ceiling again during this Congress, but if Republicans somehow end up doing it anyway, Democrats will be unafraid of the fight.
Over the last several days, I've seen some Republicans complaining that President Barack Obama and the Democrats were trying to break them. Their anger is misplaced. They should be angry at Ted Cruz for putting Republicans in a position to be broken.
Ezra Klein is the editor of Wonkblog and a columnist at the Washington Post.