Why Republicans are losing the shutdown blame game

October 11, 2013

The new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll not only contains a slew of bad news for the Republican Party but also an explanation for why the GOP is losing the blame game over the government shutdown.


Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) pauses as he and House Republican leaders speak with reporters following a strategy session at the Capitol, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The answer is simple: The American public views the Republican party's motives in the shutdown as overwhelmingly political. And looking political is the absolute worst thing that can happen to a political party.

A single question in the NBC-WSJ poll captures that sentiment. Seven in 10 people agreed with the statement that Republicans are "putting their own political agenda ahead of what is good for the country" while just 27 percent said that the GOP is "demonstrating strong leadership and standing up for what they believe in."

Compare those numbers to where President Obama stands on that same question. Forty-six percent of respondents said he is "demonstrating strong leadership" while 51 percent said he is putting his own political agenda first. Those aren't stellar numbers for the president but they look a whole heck of a lot better when compared to where Republicans stand at the moment.

As we have written in this space before, Republicans have no one but themselves to blame for how the public perceives their actions on the shutdown. The decision to link keeping the government open with defunding or delaying Obamacare was clearly a strategic misstep that allowed Obama to paint Republicans as ideologues bent on achieving their political ends no matter the consequences for the country.

And then, once the shutdown hit, an internal debate over strategy and tactics -- with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at its center -- broke into public view, drawing even more focus to the political sausage-making of the GOP.

All of that focus on the winning and losing of the shutdown led directly to the current dismal state Republicans find themselves in. Any time a politician or a political party talks about a serious policy matter in political terms, it's a recipe for disaster. (Just ask the White House, which did everything it could to run like hell from a blind quote from a "senior administration official" in the Wall Street Journal who asserted that the shutdown could keep going because "we are winning.")

To be clear: There are politics -- and political calculation -- in everything. The trick, however, is to make the other side look like they are on a political mission while you are acting out of some combination of principle and pragmatism. Republicans have lost that fight and, in so doing, are watching their brand take a major hit.

Fixbits:

After their meeting on Thursday, House Republicans and President Obama are still at odds over ending the government shutdown.

Senate Republicans are developing their own proposal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling for as long as three months.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he won't negotiate the budget with House Republicans until the government is reopened.

Here's what's coming Friday in the shutdown showdown.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) raised more than $1 million during the third quarter for his political committees.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker's father passed away at the age of 76.

Neither the Club For Growth nor Heritage action will penalize Republican members for voting for a short-term debt ceiling increase as House GOP leaders have proposed.

Must-reads: 

"Cuccinelli, McAuliffe use campaign surrogates in different ways" -- Ben Pershing, Washington Post

"Who, Exactly, Just Blinked in the Debt-Ceiling Showdown?" -- Michael Hirsh, National Journal

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Chris Cillizza | October 10, 2013