September 22, 2013
Senator Mitch McConnell-Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Some far-right groups, including the Senate Conservatives Fund, FreedomWorks and Heritage Action, who regularly proclaim their own ideological purity and spend their donors’ money attacking Republicans, took it on the chin on Friday.

As the shutdown gambit unfolded, they were caught both egging on a filibuster of the continuing resolution they asked for and trying to raise money off the fruitless exercise. Moreover, for Republicans paying close attention, the right-wing groups inadvertently highlighted how much damage they had done to the right and to the cause of repealing Obamacare.

The real problem with the shutdown gambit is that the Republicans don’t control the Senate. Why is that? Well, if the GOP had not (in the 2010 and 2012 races) blown the Delaware Senate race (nominating Christine O’Donnell), dumped Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana in favor of Richard Mourdock, rejected a capable candidate to run against Sen. Harry Reid in Nevada (instead of picking Sharron Angle) and selected candidates who were trounced in winnable states like Colorado, Alaska and Missouri, the Republicans would have a Senate majority. And who backed the batch of extremist, losing candidates? None other than the same gang that has been egging on the defunding strategy.

Now the Senate Republican candidates have a much clearer target. Obamacare is disliked by a majority of voters, strongly so among women who — a key Democratic constituency. A Republican insider makes the case to me that the threat to shut down the government “took an issue that we are on the side of more than 55 percent of Americans (60 percent in many 2014 states) and makes the worst political argument against it, turning it into a 70 percent issue for Democrats.” Again, who slammed the two issues together and put Republicans on the wrong side of the issue? The same outside, right-wing groups of course.

One argument you hear from GOP party loyalists is that the party “needs” people like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and groups like Heritage Action to pump up the base. Well, that’s hooey for several reasons.

First, it assumes the base is stupid and wants more useless exercises like the defund Obamacare effort. Second, it suggests Republicans would be hurt in marginal states without the groups, but, as noted above, the right-wing crowd has backed losing candidates no amount of base-enthusiasm could save. Those defending the outside groups also disregard the damage done by the right-wing crowd among constituencies with which the GOP must do better (e.g. women, Hispanics, young people, urban professionals). And finally, the Cruz/Heritage Action defenders overlook the harm the outside groups do in staging quixotic primary fights that force solid Republicans to expend loads of money before they reach the general election.

In fact, it is hard to identify what the defund Obamacare/shutdown the government/run cruddy candidates/attack other Republicans gang is actually accomplishing — well, other than enhancing their personal fame and building a pipeline to big donors.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.