September 23, 2013

Some of the commentary about the political harm facing Republicans over the looming government shutdown may be overestimated. I believe there may be such a thing as “shutdown fatigue” among voters.

In recent years, the repeated instances of budget brinkmanship, predictions of looming shutdowns, the non-crisis called the sequester and the general poor performance of Washington have made the voters numb to what has become routine dysfunction. Americans just may not react to this round of malpractice as harshly as they may have in the past. (President Obama did the GOP a favor by crying wolf during the last budget showdown, which produced the sequester. Even as he tried to mismanage those budget cuts to maximize their negative impact, the general perception among most voters is that the sequester has been a yawner.)

So all the talk about a government shutdown leading to a political calamity for Republicans should be taken with a grain of salt. Rather than particularly punish Republicans, a government shutdown will simply add to the disgust that people have for both political parties and for “Washington” generally.  Republicans shouldn’t be relieved by this. The notion that the two parties will continue to produce such poor governance but maintain their duopoly in the political marketplace is unrealistic.

Right now, a CNN/ORC poll shows that 51 percent would blame Republicans for the government shutdown, with 33 percent blaming the president and 12 percent blaming both. The most recent Gallup Congressional Approval poll shows that just 18 percent of Americans approve of the job Republicans are doing in Congress, while only 20 percent of Americans approve of the job Democrats are doing in Congress. And oh, by the way, the Democratic president’s job approval number is near his all-time low; it’s currently at about 45 percent.

No one is winning this fight. Does either party believe it can survive for much longer with this kind of dissatisfaction among their consumers? Voters might just go shopping for a better offer.

For the first time, I see the ingredients there for a third-party movement. It wouldn’t take much for a conservative third party to gather enough votes in a few districts and states to make a big difference. But any such movement would have to coalesce around a leader, and I don’t see who that person might be.

Our current broken system is producing a vacuum — and politics abhors a vacuum.  If we don’t get our act together, something big (and not necessarily good) might appear on the horizon.

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