Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who’s facing a tough reelection challenge this fall, said turning the lights out in Washington is a “failed policy.”
“Remember me? I am the guy that gets us out of shutdowns,” he quipped to CNN.
And Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team are ruling out a repeat of October, when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz led a conservative rebellion and forced the government to close for two weeks in a bid to defund ObamaCare.
It is now conventional wisdom for all but a tiny sliver of the GOP that the shutdown was a disaster,. And even now while cranks such as Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) are suggesting the party jump off the cliff again, you don’t see the rabble rousers like Jim DeMint or Heritage Action pushing the idea. The only one of the shutdown leaders who was hinting he’d do it over immigration is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who seems to be reinforcing his reputation for flightiness and lack of gravitas.
Plainly before the recent kerfuffle, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) wrote for his new book that the shutdown was a grievous error. (“No core principles were advanced. And the reputation of the GOP dropped to new lows.”) He writes tersely, “It was a suicide mission.”
Since so many Republicans have reached the same conclusion and will oppose a repeat, how did the feeding frenzy over a potential shutdown begin? The exact same way the impeachment talk ramped up: A very few cranks pop off and the media run with it, delighted to portray the GOP as irresponsible and delusional. Rather than acting as the Democratic National Committee’s transcription service to fan rumors designed to skewer the GOP, the mainstream media might report accurately: While one or two people are trying to whip up enthusiasm for the shutdown, the vast majority of Republicans have learned their lesson and want no part of it. That would be true, but not a very juicy story.
While revealing of the media’s real or feigned credulity, the shutdown non-story also raises an interesting issue about party loyalty. In the Senate more than three-fourths of the members were supportive of a reimposition of sanctions against Iran, but a flock of Democratic loyalists (most Senate chairmen) circled the wagon around the president. By contrast, at great political risk to himself (and loss of the Democratic nomination) former senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) bucked his party to support the Iraq surge in 2006. He knew it was necessary to avoid a perilous defeat and widespread sectarian violence (precisely what President Obama ushered in when he pulled all troops out). Both should be an object lesson in the limits of party discipline.
One doesn’t need to be a full-time political watcher to know that there are times when individuals swallow hard and go with their leaders for the sake of a greater good. Ours is a two-party system and passing an agenda requires to some degree that members sublimate their individual preferences for the sake of comity. Those who make a fetish over bucking the “establishment” and labeling every issue and sub-issue a matter of principle do the country, their party and themselves no good. But when the party is fundamentally wrong on an issue of great consequence, lawmakers do the country and their constituencies no favors by going along with the flow to, for example, spare members a tough vote or avoid embarrassing a White House already in meltdown.
The best legislators and the ones who ultimately win the confidence of voters navigate between those polar opposites. Ideally, you want lawmakers who can distinguish between principle and tactics and know when to pick fights. There is no magic formula, so we must determine which candidates possess good judgment — and then hope they retain it in the cauldron of national politics.