Republicans need to look beyond their usual suspects to see how they lost the shutdown fight so badly.
It looks like the end is in sight for our two week long government shutdown and we might even find a way to dodge a self-inflicted default. But while this is certainly good for the nation as a whole, it’s increasingly clear that Republicans are the main political losers in these two budgetary fights. In the coming blame game over who is responsible for this Waterloo, Republicans would do themselves and their country a world of good by ignoring the “usual suspects” of squishy moderates and people who aren’t “true believers.”
It’s pretty clear that Republican overplayed their hand with staging a shutdown. According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll a whopping 74 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Congressional Republicans have been handling negotiations over the budget. This is in sync with earlier polling that showed the American public overwhelmingly blames the GOP and not President Obama for the shutdown. In addition to the flack the GOP is catching from voters, many of the Republican Party’s staunchest allies are also upset. The very conservative National Federation of Independent Businesses recently announced that, “There clearly are people in the Republican Party at the moment for whom the business community and the interests of the business community—the jobs and members they represent—don’t seem to be their top priority.” Simply put, their shutdown strategy has been a disaster.
In the past when major fiascoes happen to the Republicans there are typically two types of people they blame for all their problems. The first are leaders who failed because they were never true believers, “a true conservative” is the popular lingo. Thus George W. Bush went from conservative hero to “not a real conservative” after he left the White House. And the same thing happened to Mitt Romney after he lost as well.
The second group that Republicans typically look to blame is the supposedly weak moderates who failed to stand up to the Democrats. Some people like noted conservative pundit and radio host Erick Erickson have been trying to place the blame for the shutdown disaster recently on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Erickson even posted on his blog Red State recently that, “Mitch McConnell is the single obstacle we have this week to taking our country back from the death spiral instigated by Obama and his merry band of community organizers.”
In both cases Republicans assume that their ideas were sound but it was just a case of bad implementation that caused the disaster. The problem with this argument is that it is completely non-falsifiable. Try to imagine a political strategy that is doomed to failure. Now once it’s carried out and predictably fails imagine a GOP style blame game. You can always find proof that someone wasn’t a true believer after the fact, if only because politicians have to make compromises all the time. And you can always find proof that it was a squishy moderate who threw in the towel, if only because political strategies that are doomed to fail all end with someone throwing in a towel at some point.
Fakers and political weaklings can cause political strategies to fail, but they are hardly the only causes under the sun. The reason the Republican’s shutdown strategy ultimately failed is because it ignores the very real reality about how shutdowns are viewed by the public and interest groups they effect. Shutting down the federal government is simply highly unpopular, and any party that deliberately engages in shutdowns is going to suffer, especially when they spend the better part of a year gearing up for one. No amount of better media spin or Twitter hashtags is going to change that.
What would a more functional post-shutdown blame game look like? It would be one where Republicans could ask if shutting down the government would be popular with people who don’t watch Fox News all day. It would be a discussion where people could ask if there even was a feasible way for a party that controls just half of Congress to force the executive branch to bend to its will at all. It would be a discussion where compromise and accommodation, both inside the party and outside it, were seen as a normal part of politics in a democracy, not signs of weakness and betrayal.
Unfortunately this is not likely to be the discussion Republicans have after the shutdown ends. But it should be.
Photo Fibonacci Blue/Flickr