Winners and losers of the government shutdown

October 16, 2013

Every politician spent Wednesday insisting that there were no winners in the deal to avert the debt ceiling deadline and reopen the government. That is, of course, something that politicians say. But, with an event as all-consuming and high profile as the shutdown has been in the last three weeks in Washington, it's ridiculous not to see some winners and, yes, some losers emerging.

Below we pick the best and the worst from a memorable month in the nation's capital.

WINNERS

* Harry Reid: The Senate majority leader was the public face of the Democratic refusal to even consider any legislation that made major changes to President Obama's health-care law. He insisted there would be no concessions by Democrats and he was (largely) right. The bipartisan agreement that he and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) worked out is a far better agreement for Democrats than they might have dared to hope when the government shutdown began. And, Reid (D-Nev.) wound up as a key player -- maybe the key player -- in making the deal finally happen. Reid is a master political tactician -- we still are amazed he got reelected in 2010 -- and he showed  it again during the shutdown.

* Chris Christie: Quick, think of the most not-Washington Republican politician with a national profile out there. Yup, it's the New Jersey governor who, oh by the way, is cruising to a second term next month in a blue state and giving every indication that he wants to run for president in 2016. Christie's lambasting of the GOP in Washington during the debate over relief funds for victims of Hurricane Sandy looks even better in light of the latest debacle. If ever there was an event that was going to convince Republicans that they need to nominate someone not currently serving in Washington as their nominee in 2016, this was it. (Sidebar: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is also a winner by this standard.)

* Mitch McConnell: Say what you will about the Kentucky Republican, but dude knows how to close deals.  What's interesting about McConnell's decision to play such a central role in the final deal after staying in the background for much of the fight is that it reveals he is less worried about his primary challenge in 2014 than many people thought. (Matt Bevin, who is challenging McConnell from the right, blasted the incumbent for "selling out conservatives" in the wake of the compromise.) McConnell's speech on the Senate floor Wednesday morning announcing the deal was also fascinating; he spent much of it savaging Obamacare -- a message to his side that they could have been doing this all along if only they had kept the government open.

* Obamacare: Everyone -- and we mean everyone -- acknowledges now that the rollout of Obamacare's health-insurance exchanges on Oct. 1 has been a total disaster. But, because of the shutdown, those stories have been pushed off the front page and the lead of the newscasts.  The problems with the rollout would have been massive news -- and all of it bad for the White House and Democrats -- if not for the shutdown. That fact is the single greatest Republican strategic miscalculation -- amid many -- of the shutdown. Downside for Obamacare: With the shutdown now  -- almost -- over, there will be a bright light on the rollout and its problems.

* Ted Cruz: The tea party wing of the Republican Party now has its candidate in 2016.  While most people focus on how Cruz's numbers dipped with the overall electorate, Cruz and his people will focus on the fact that over the past month he became a cult hero to the activist base of the GOP. Cruz's victory at the Values Voter Summit straw poll last weekend, the fact that he is mobbed with cameras everywhere he goes on the Hill now and the lasting significance of his 21-hour filibuster against Obamacare all suggest that he is now first among equals when it comes to the anti-Obama in the 2016 field. And that's a damn good place to be, given how the GOP base feels about the current occupant of the White House.

* Barry Black: Admit it, you had NO idea the name of the Senate chaplain before all of this started. Now Black -- thanks to his prayers at the opening of each Senate session -- is a minor celebrity. Heck, Harry Reid praised Black as a"voice of stability, a voice of inspiration" before he announced the shutdown/debt-ceiling deal Wednesday.

* National Review: Congressional reporters in general shined during the past fortnight, but the National Review's duo of Bob Costa and Jonathan Strong proved that working for an ideological publication doesn't mean you have to be ideological in your reporting. Costa especially seemed as though he had a direct pipeline into the machinations of the House Republican leaders.

* Rand Paul: You barely heard from the Kentucky senator during this debate. That was on purpose. By not leading the charge against McConnell and the GOP establishment -- Cruz handled that -- Paul preserved the possibility that he could be a hybrid 2016 candidate with tea party and establishment backing. Smart.

* Twitter: Again, the micro-blogging site proved itself as THE indispensable tool in keeping up with all of the happenings on the Hill. While we're talking Twitter, read this great New York Times Magazine piece on the company's creation myth.

LOSERS

* John Boehner: Boehner failed, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Time and again he tried to walk the fine line between appeasing the most conservative wing of his party and passing legislation that would have a chance of winning Senate approval. In the end, Boehner's greatest failing might have been in hoping that he could forge consensus within a conference where that simply is not possible. Boehner survived this fight and probably even strengthened his hand among tea party Republicans. But, the political costs were too high.

* "Super" committees: For anyone who has spent more than five minutes in Washington, the budget-committee-that-will-solve-all-of-our-debt-and-spending-problems is an eye-rolling concept.  And yet, that's one of the major components of the Senate compromise. While we admire the optimism that creating such a committee represents, it's hard to imagine that by mid-December any real solutions will be worked out. In the words of Principal Skinner: "Prove me wrong, kids. Prove me wrong."

* Ted Cruz: Yes, he's a winner AND a loser. Cruz made SO many enemies within his own party during the last month that it's hard to imagine it doesn't come back to bite him if/when he runs for president in three years' time. Plus, while Cruz bolstered his bona fides within the GOP base, he hurt his image everywhere else. If Republicans prize electability in their nominee in 2016 -- and who knows if they will -- then Cruz may have a major problem of his own making. And, not for nothing, but Cruz's attempt to defund Obamacare (or at least delay it) didn't work. At all.

* The GOP brand: By the end, nearly three-quarters of Americans disapproved of how congressional Republicans had handled the budget showdown in a Washington Post-ABC poll. Congressional Republicans hit new lows in overall approval and, according to most polls, lost the blame game for the shutdown as well. The best news for Republicans is that this all happened in the fall of 2013, not the fall of 2014, meaning they have a year to rebrand themselves in a more favorable way in the eyes of the public.

* Our system of government: Does anyone think this is how our government should work? Does anyone think we won't be right back in this mess early next year?  The government has proven over and over in the last few years that it is simply incapable of doing big things or, if we are being honest, even medium things.  Ugh.

RELATED:  Who the shutdown helped

 

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Sean Sullivan | October 16, 2013