If the government does shut down — as it is now widely expected to do — it’s likely to hurt the GOP, no matter what you hear on Fox News or read on conservative websites. Republican David Frum, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush gives three reasons why. He looks at three Republican “happy endings,” and shows why they are actually wishful thinking:
‘Happy Ending #1: The president blinks. He’s blinked before after all—notably when he agreed to sequestration in 2011—and who knows? He might blink again.
Problem with Happy Ending #1: This time, though, “blinking” means blowing up the president’s most important legacy: his health-care plan. That’s more than a blink. He might as well hand in his resignation after that.
It’s also worth adding that it’s abundantly clear now that the White House and Obama now view the tactic of political hostage taking as a dangerous precedent that cannot be allowed to succeed. What we are seeing here is a tactic unprecedented in the way our politics has operated for more than two centuries. If it succeeds here, it’ll be a new way the way our democracy operates — and arguably will mean national elections have no consquences.
Happy Ending #2: The country blames the Democrats for the shutdown. After all, the GOP is only asking for the president to negotiate. It’s the president who refuses to yield.
Problem with Happy Ending #2: Republicans actually shut down the government in 1995. They took the country to the brink of debt default in 2011. Their caucus is reacting to this shutdown with enthusiasm, not regret. It’s going to be hard to sell the claim that it’s the Democrats who brought about this latest outcome when Republicans come out of caucus looking so happy about it.
It’s where what I call the “repetition syndome” will hit reality. I was in a McDonald’s in San Diego County yesterday and it had the news blaring LOUDLY. I couldn’t see the TV but the anchor and people discussing the impending shutdown were blaming it on Barack Obama and the Democrats. I knew the channel and was correct: Fox News.
We may be seeing a repeat here of election night 2012 when Republicans getting their news, perspective, and assurances from the likes of Fox News, Dick Morris and conservative websites were absolutely convinced that Mitt Romney would be elected President with a big win — until the votes were counted.
If there is one definitive branding now it is the current GOP as the party that threatens to shut down the government — unlike political parties in the 2000s, 1990s, 1980s…etc. And repeating it on the air, on the radio, and on websites that cater to the existing choir won’t change the overall impression which will be reinforced by a shutdown.
Happy Ending #3: Even if the president does not blink, and even if Democrats don’t get blamed, perhaps Republican activists will be so motivated and mobilized by the shutdown that their excitement will loft the party to big wins in the 2014 races.
Problem with Happy Ending #3: Because Happy Endings 1 and 2 look so unlikely, the shutdown is likely to end in a Republican retreat. Party activists will be demotivated—and may waste their energy recriminating against their own leadership rather than organizing to fight Democrats.
And Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will say something about those Republicans who didn’t stick with it — and his numbers will rise as a Republican Presidential favorite.
Frum contends the party can no longer think strategically.
Even when pressed to do something overwhelmingly likely to end in disaster, as this shutdown looks likely to do for Republicans, the party has no way to stop itself. It stumbles into fights it cannot win, gets mad, and then in its anger lurches into yet another fight that ends in yet another loss.
And, he notes, those who don’t only want to fight and fight are called RINOs, squishes — while Obamacare will live on.
The other problem for the GOP is this:
As much as Fox News may downplay the story, once there is a government shutdown the media will be filled with stories about the impact of the shutdown, and lots of “plight stories” about how it’s negatively impacting people. In terms of national elections, it will be a strategical blunder of monumental proportions, perhaps only topped by GOPers shoving the United States into default on its debts.
The most likely outcome? It’ll help Obama and the Democrats get Democrats to the polls in 2014. It won’t be one more offyear election where Republicans can count on Democrats yawning and staying at home.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.