As if Republican government-shutdown threats weren’t in enough trouble, the looming crisis appears to be tearing the GOP apart.
When a congressional delegation tries to pull off a scheme of this magnitude, they generally need two related dynamics to exist. First, a party needs to be unanimous – when Republicans shut down the government in 1996 and when Republicans launched the first-ever debt-ceiling crisis in 2011, there was practically zero intra-party dissent. Second, a party needs leaders who command the fealty of rank-and-file members.
This year, neither dynamic exists. National Review published an interesting report on the Republican Study Committee’s weekly staff meeting yesterday.
Max Pappas, an aide to Texas senator Ted Cruz who was on hand, rose to argue that in the event the House and President Obama were at odds when government funding expired, Republicans could pass a bill to fund the troops and other core priorities.
At that point, a woman rose, identifying herself as a staffer to a Texas Republican. Pappas, she said, was “not dealing in reality” and making everyone else’s life difficult. The staffer, whom two GOP sources identified as working for Representative John Culberson of Texas, went on to decry Cruz for holding events in Culberson’s district and telling his constituents that defunding Obamacare would be “easy.”
A significant number in the room of about one hundred people applauded the woman’s remarks, but several GOP aides said it was not a standing ovation or an overwhelmingly positive response.
It’s against this backdrop that the Wall Street Journal editorial page, a reliable guide to the thinking of the Republican Party establishment, openly mocked the congressional Republicans pushing the shutdown strategy: “These critics portrayed [House Speaker John Boehner’s plan to avoid a shutdown] as a sellout because of a campaign that captured the imagination of some conservatives this summer: Republicans must threaten to crash their Zeros into the aircraft carrier of ObamaCare. Their demand is that the House pair the ‘must pass’ CR or the debt limit with defunding the health-care bill. Kamikaze missions rarely turn out well, least of all for the pilots.”
When the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal is comparing far-right lawmakers to Kamikaze pilots, it’s safe to say all is not well within the Republican Party. When the staffer of one Texas GOP lawmaker is lecturing the staffer of another Texas GOP lawmaker on “dealing with reality,” it’s even worse.
This is more than just idle curiosity about an intra-party spat. In less than two weeks, the government’s lights will go out, and Republicans don’t want to get the blame for an unpopular shutdown.
In other words, the unanimity that existed the last time the GOP shut down the government does not exist right now. Worse, there are no real leaders among congressional Republicans that the rest of the party will follow and whom Democratic leaders can negotiate with.
This is already ugly, and it seems likely to get worse before it gets better.