Republicans lost a bruising battle with little to show for it. Their approval ratings dropped to all-time lows, their anti-Obamacare quest that stemmed the debacle in the first place ended in utter failure, and throughout the 16-day shutdown, a war began brewing between Republicans and an unlikely opponent: other Republicans.
The debate over how to end the shutdown pit hardcore conservatives against the more moderate Republicans, presenting a major challenge for the GOP ahead of next year’s midterm elections. Here’s a sampling of some of their infighting:
Just about every moderate Republican vs. Ted Cruz (and Mike Lee)
As the public and most prominent face of the shutdown effort, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (and Utah Sen. Mike Lee, to a lesser extent) bore the brunt of the attacks from those within the GOP who supported a less stalwart solution.
The backlash to Cruz began before the shutdown started, and only got worse as time passed.
At a private lunch meeting shortly after the government was shuttered, Republican senators, including Kelly Ayotte, Dan Coats, and Ron Johnson, “assailed” Cruz, according to a New York Times report. Ayotte was reportedly “furious” with Cruz, and one senator described the meeting as “a lynch mob.”
Grover Norquist, the anti-tax Republican who’s rarely known as a moderate, accused Cruz of dragging his party “across broken glass for no purpose” with his doomed plan to destroy the Affordable Care Act.
“Ted Cruz and the people around him said that anyone who didn’t follow his direction on this was a Nazi appeaser,” Norquist told Newsmax TV.
“It’s time for someone to act like a grown-up in this process,” former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu argued, faulting Cruz and Tea Party Republicans in the House as much as President Barack Obama for taking an uncompromising stance.
New York Rep. Peter King became one of Cruz’s loudest opponents.
“I think it’s important for Republican leaders around the country to speak out against him and neutralize him,” King said of Cruz, according to Buzzfeed. “Otherwise he’s going to start the same nonsense again in December or January. He’s the guy that caused this, he’s the guy who is a fraud because he never had a strategy to begin with. And if we let him do it again, it’s our fault.”
King also told Fox News, just before the shutdown began, “I’m tired of having Ted Cruz call the shots for the House Republicans.”
Fox News host Megyn Kelly acknowledge the backlash succinctly in her interview with Cruz last week, asking “What’s it like to be the most hated man in America?”
News of Arizona Sen. John McCain’s hatred of Cruz leaked out before the whole debacle began, and didn’t seem to have abated as it ended.
“I think it’s obvious that we are now seeing the end of this agonizing odyssey that this body has been put through, but far more importantly, the American people have been put through,” he said Wednesday. “It’s one of the more shameful chapters that I have seen in the years that I have spent here in the Senate.”
Louie Gohmert vs. John McCain
Perhaps the most biting of all battles came between Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert and McCain.
Gohmert blasted McCain at last weekend’s Value Voters Summit, accusing him of supporting al Qaeda in Syria.
McCain snapped back Wednesday night when asked about Gohmert’s remarks in an interview with Brian Williams on NBC’s Nightly News.
“Sometimes those–comments like that are made out of malice, but if someone has no intelligence I don’t view it as being a malicious statement,” McCain said.
Caught in the middle: John Boehner
In the center of the infighting is House Speaker John Boehner, who’s received sharp criticism from his colleagues in the Senate. “We gave the House every chance to pass something over here,” Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson said. “For a variety of reasons, they were unable to do it.”
Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri made a similar dig at Boehner’s inability to control his caucus. “The only reason the Democrats don’t look terrible is because we look worse.”
But on the House side, plenty of Republicans are still standing up for their speaker. “We didn’t get anything,” Rep. Peter King said. “This has been a total waste of time.”
McConnell vs. his Tea Party challenger
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell got hit hard for his role in the deal to end the shutdown.
“When the stakes are highest, Mitch McConnell can always be counted on to sell out conservatives,” Bevin said in a statement.
To which McConnell’s spokesperson shot back, “At some point, you’d think Matt Bevin would take a deep breath, stare up at his fake MIT diploma, and wonder whether this is the kind of campaign he envisioned.”
And what’s some mudslinging without the involvement of a certain former governor? “Friends, do not be discouraged by the shenanigans of D.C.’s permanent political class today. Be energized. We’re going to shake things up in 2014,” Sarah Palin wrote on her Facebook page Thursday morning. “Rest well tonight, for soon we must focus on important House and Senate races. Let’s start with Kentucky – which happens to be awfully close to South Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi – from sea to shining sea we will not give up. We’ve only just begun to fight.”
The conservative cable channel’s primetime hosts were singing different tunes as the shutdown fight dragged on. Bill O’Reilly bluntly stated that the GOP was in trouble, and that “hard-right Americans should understand that the Democrats will win next year’s midterm elections and the presidency in 2016 if the Republican Party does not begin to solve problems.”
But Sean Hannity begged to differ. “At the end of this mess, the American people are going to see who stood up for them and who didn’t.”