The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Government shutdown threats won’t work. But maybe complete gibberish will!

With Republicans divided over whether to stage a debt ceiling and government shutdown crisis aimed at winning the defunding of Obamacare, Marco Rubio just gave an interview on the Andrea Tantaros show in which he effectively conceded that the GOP position is politically untenable. He didn’t say that, of course. But if you look at how he reframed the issue, it’s hard to escape that conclusion:

TANTAROS: Are you, Senator Marco Rubio, willing to shut down the government over ObamaCare? Because when you talk about the budget, you know better than anyone, that means shut down, potentially.
RUBIO: I think the real question is: Is Barack Obama willing to shut down the government over ObamaCare? In essence, I think we should pay our military. I think we should fund the government. I just don’t think we should fund ObamaCare. And what the President is saying is we either fund ObamaCare or we don’t fund anything. And I think that’s an unreasonable position. And that’s the position he’s taken and the Democrats have taken.

This can be taken as a concession that all Republicans have left — when it comes to the argument over whether a government shutdown fight to defund Obamacare is substantively defensible or politically advisable — is utter gibberish. Republicans who are advocating for this course are, for all practical purposes, demanding that the GOP leadership stick to a clear position: the president must agree to defund Obamacare, or Republicans won’t agree to fund the government.

But, since even some Republicans are now warning that this risks making the party look unreasonable and intransigent, this demand needs to be recast entirely. Now the primary actor in driving us towards a government shutdown over the Affordable Care Act isn’t the GOP; it’s Obama himself. If Obama won’t shut down his signature domestic achievement, he’s shutting the entire government down. The GOP’s threat to block funding of the government if it includes funding for Obamacare implementation is transformed into an immutable fact of this debate, and therefore, GOP behavior is no longer a factor in the outcome. Republicans — passive players in this whole drama — have no choice but to look on and sadly shake their heads in disbelief at the Democrats’ intransigence.

This reminds me a bit of Mitch McConnell’s recent speech on the IRS scandal, in which he said:

“Now we have an administration that’s desperately trying to prove that nobody at the top was involved in any of this stuff, even as they hope that the media loses interest in this scandal and moves on.”

As Jonathan Chait noted at the time: “McConnell’s speech is an attempt to reframe the issue in a way that it can survive the utter absence of incriminating facts…Before Republicans were going to prove that Obama’s administration was involved. All of the evidence suggests it wasn’t. So now McConnell is framing the question as Obama trying to prove he wasn’t involved. Which, of course, he can’t.” Chait added this indicated that “the IRS scandal has entered its post-fact phase,” and that the IRS scandal has now become “a vague trope that conservatives use with other members of the tribe,” to “signal some dark beliefs they don’t need to back up.”

Similarly, one assumes plenty of Republicans will effortlessly internalize Rubio’s framing of the coming Obamacare/government shutdown confrontation. After all, the Affordable Care Act is entirely illegitimate, and only continues to exist because Obama is somehow managing to hold off its certain destruction. So whatever catastrophic consequences flow from the continued showdown over Obamacare — be it default or a government shutdown — must be entirely the fault of Obama’s continued resistance to the inevitable.