October 1, 2013
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

“If a faction consists of less than a majority,” wrote James Madison in Federalist No. 10, “relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution.” The idea that voting expresses the popular will, that elections’ results have consequences, is fundamental to democracy. It is also an idea that Republicans are determined to ignore.

Here are the facts, Republicans: The legislative branch passed the Affordable Care Act. The executive branch signed it into law. The judicial branch upheld it as constitutional. The American people voted to reelect the president who championed it. Since the act was passed, Americans who favor and/or want the law expanded have consistently outnumbered those who oppose the law. And now Americans are already clearly opposed to Republicans’ shutdown tactics. If this were a game, we’d call the result a blowout.

But instead of admitting defeat in the courts of public and constitutional opinion, Republicans are acting like the little kid in a toy store who won’t take “no” for an answer. According to the National Review’s well-sourced Robert Costa, the House GOP leadership asked for a conference committee to resolve the Senate and House’s differences — after avoiding a conference for months — in part because Harry Reid “got under [the] GOP’s skin.” Republicans like Rand Paul have whined that, despite the House voting more than 40 times to repeal Obamacare, “We haven’t had a big debate about Obamacare really since it passed in Congress.” Now, instead of just putting a clean funding bill to a vote, the GOP is pitifully trying to duck voter anger again by passing piecemeal funding bills for specific government functions. Ted Cruz and Co. refuse to leave the shop until they’ve stamped their feet and screamed as much as possible.

All this would be bad enough if a shutdown was the biggest harm that these spoiled brats and their far-right enablers could inflict on the country. But it is looking ever more likely that Republicans, still in thrall to a minority faction, will make ending the shutdown part of the debt-ceiling negotiations, thus threatening what President Obama accurately described as an “economic shutdown” as well. In other words, having lost at the ballot box and in the courts, Republicans will take our economy hostage to undercut the law of the land.

Such recklessness recalls the words of Abraham Lincoln to Southerners in 1860: “Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events.” The tea party’s “rule or ruin” extortion is fundamentally undemocratic; the president and the American people are right not to stand for it.

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James Downie is The Washington Post’s Digital Opinions Editor. He previously wrote for The New Republic and Foreign Policy magazine.