A man runs through a closed National Mall in Washington, DC, Oct 3, 2013.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/Getty Images

GOP sees a shutdown as a consequence-free gambit

Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) was asked yesterday about the prospect of Republicans shutting down the government again. “If he’s not willing to work with us, then we don’t have any other choice,” Duncan told Nashville Public Radio.
 
Yes, for some in Congress, a shutdown isn’t just a good idea, it’s practically mandatory.
 
As GOP lawmakers and activists continue to bat the idea around, the fault lines are becoming clearer. Republican leaders want to avoid a shutdown, fearing a public backlash, while many rank-and-file members remind one another that the backlash never seems to come. Dave Weigel reported today:
[I]n the received, popular GOP history of the last Congress, the shutdown really did not end badly for the Republicans. They won, didn’t they?
 
“Let’s think about all the hyperbole, the hyperbolic statements coming from everybody, particularly the talking heads on television,” said Arizona Representative David Schweikert, a member of the Tea Party class of 2010. “This was supposed to be the end of the Republican Party. The public would never understand what the fight was all about. Turns out the public was a lot smarter than a lot in the political class and media class gave them credit for. They were able to discern that it was an honorable fight over many of the things that were rolling out in the new health care law.”
Well, that’s certainly one way to look at it. The other way is that a year passed and voters largely forgot about the GOP’s shutdown by the time Election Day 2014 rolled around.
 
But the notion of a consequence-free shutdown is nevertheless taking hold within the party.
 
“This is the second shut down where the GOP got blamed and saw no catastrophe at the ballot box,” Erick Erickson argued this week. “Every horror story every talking head within the GOP Establishment trotted out to scare congressmen and senators into caving turned out to be crap.”
 
Maybe so. But Republicans appear to be asking themselves one specific question – “Will this hurt the party?” – when there are other questions equally deserving of answers.
 
The right may have a point about recent history. Republicans shut down the government in 1995 and paid no real price at the ballot box in 1996. Republican shut down the government again in 2013 and had a great election cycle in 2014. I’d caution against drawing sweeping conclusions after looking a sample size of two, but the argument that the GOP can survive post-shutdown public frustration may have some merit.
 
Or maybe there will be a cumulative effect to voters’ dissatisfaction and the third shutdown would be the final straw for much of the public. Perhaps the lesson is that shutdowns a year out from the election are forgotten, but Republicans can’t risk an election-year shutdown.
 
Regardless, whether or not someone will be punished for an action need not be the sole factor in deciding whether or not to take the action.
 
Is shutting down the government a good idea? Will it help or hurt the country? Will the tactic move Republicans closer or further from their goal? Is it a legitimate use of political power? How many Americans will suffer as a consequence of the tactic? How does this make the United States look in the eyes of the world?
 
If the only consideration is “the punishment for us won’t be that bad,” the right is being overly narrow. Republicans’ electoral prospects are interesting, but the health of the nation and our political system are interesting, too. Maybe focusing on the former and not the latter is a mistake.
 

Government Shutdowns and House Republicans

GOP sees a shutdown as a consequence-free gambit