As we and some others from the right warned, the defund strategy had no endgame, played into the president’s hands, stepped on the Obamacare’s-troubled-rollout story and left Republicans stranded as they head into an even harder fight on the debt ceiling.
One school of thought is that moderates who haven’t had the nerve to defend the speaker from the pack of right-wing rowdies will have had enough (we’ve seen some of that already), the right-wingers will see the poll numbers on the wall and the shutdown will come to a screeching halt sooner rather than latter, to the great dismay of hard-line Republicans. This is akin to ripping off the bandage and moving on.
Another school of thought, apparently being embraced for now by the House leadership, is to try to hold the caucus together, spread the blame for the shutdown and pivot into the debt-ceiling negotiations. This envisions a shutdown going on until a deal is reached on the debt ceiling, which might not happen before Oct. 17. That’s a lot of pummeling for a very long time and it assumes the president wants to end the fight rather than see an economic panic. I think this strategy is unrealistic, but thoughtful Republicans (who fought against the defund gambit) argue that this is the hand dealt them and fight on they must.
The White House and Senate Democrats are feeling smug and secure (as we predicted) and have no interest in doing anything further on the continuing resolution. They therefore reject every desperation move tossed their way. However, where their miscalculation comes is in assuming they never, ever have to talk to the GOP, even as we inch closer to the debt-ceiling deadline. That isn’t likely to be sustainable politically, and the economic pressure to be constructive will become intense. The White House might not like it, but negotiate they must, or risk an economic debacle.
You would think people who’ve gotten this far in politics would see the obvious: The GOP “caves” on the CR (everyone back to work for 6 weeks) and the president “caves” in agreeing to negotiate on the debt ceiling. (Wasn’t that the GOP strategy all along — make this about the debt ceiling?) Defunding and delaying Obamacare won’t be on the table, but the GOP was never going to get Obama to capitulate on that. Everything else including the medical device tax can be discussed.
The trouble is in getting each side to believe they are at risk of not talking; now both think the opposite. Is Bill Clinton to play the role of Vladimir Putin providing the president with a face-saving solution? Maybe Hillary Clinton could finally negotiate something successfully.
But realistically that outcome — the double cave — is likely to happen only as a result of both inside and outside pressure. The outside pressure comes from the markets, constituents, 2016 contenders (watch the GOP governors turn up the taunts on D.C. Republicans) and media. Conservative media might try speaking truth to power instead of trying to keep in the good graces of the party’s wackiest elements. Telling hot heads they should dig in, refuse to budge and not panic is in essence promoting the same blindly unrealistic approach that got them in the current mess. There is a time when you just have to stop digging. And, of course, so long as donors feed the beast by sending money to the purveyors of the echo chamber, the behavior is only going to continue. Mainstream media meanwhile have an obligation to inform readers and viewers that Obama’s refusal to negotiate at the time of the debt ceiling is a break from past precedent and not appropriate for a president whose obligations extend beyond partisan advantage.
The inside game, however, is just as important. The hardliners who have predicted nothing correctly and achieved nothing have to feel the ground beneath them opening up like a giant sinkhole. The moderate deal-makers have to actually vote for and against things they are for and against, instead of talking a good game and then running right. If lawmakers who should know better keep voting with the defunders they will remain trapped in the dead end they helped create. Some of those Senate Republicans who voted with the defunders on cloture of the original House CR (ages ago, I know) should be the first to step forward and tell the House to call it quits.
For now the main beneficiaries of this mess are the 2014 and 2016 challengers who can accurately claim to have cautioned against all this and be seen as adequate replacements for the incumbents, who have proven themselves unfit to serve. That’s the real threat to every pol — the widespread perception that they have caused the problem and someone else can do it better. Right now that is a low bar for challengers to hop over.
And as for the president, some clear-headed Dems would be smart to remind him: “A disaster happened on my watch, but it wasn’t my fault” is not a legacy worth leaving.