I tweeted last week that if you paid attention to how the government-shutdown debate ended up, the conclusion of the debt-ceiling fight won’t be too much of a surprise. In fact, if you want to understand just how easily led the Tea Party is (what other political movement demands the end of the government entitlements it most vociferously demands?) all you have to do is look back to how the GOP leadership bamboozled them just three months ago.
Here’s what I was referring to in my tweet. The last catastrophe-averting showdown ended when the Republican leadership changed the terms of the debate. Specifically, on April 5th, Politico reported that Speaker Boehner (R-OH) told his caucus the previous day that, “The Democrats think they benefit from a government shutdown. I agree.” In other words, the debate was no longer about the policy outcomes of the shutdown showdown, it was about the political outcomes. And by that measure, Boehner warned, the Democrats would win.
Four days later, Boehner had wrangled enough Republicans spooked by the thought of a political win for Democrats…to avert the shutdown. The Tea Party, of course, vowed never again.
Fast-forward to our current crisis du jour.
The National Journal this weekend reported that Republican leaders are “slowly convincing newer members” to fall in line on the debt ceiling. How? Part of it is education about the consequences of default. But part of it is straight from the same GOP Tea Bag of Tricks that Boehner used to avert a shutdown.
NJ quotes Sen. GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) from Laura Ingraham’s show on Wednesday:
[Democrats] want to blame the economy on us and the reason default is no better an idea today than when Newt Gingrich tried it in 1995 is that it destroys your brand. It would give the president an opportunity to blame Republicans for a bad economy.
Just three months later, the GOP is running the same dodge on the Tea Party – We’ll fight until the last breath for your substance, but we can’t actually win or the politics will kill us. What’s astonishing is not so much that it will work again, but that it is an explicit repudiation of the Tea Party’s fundamental ideology.
The only reason Tea Party victories would turn the American people against the Republican Party is if they fail. When GOP leaders predict political pain in the event of Tea Party victories, they’re admitting that even they know the Tea Party ideology is bankrupt.
Follow Senior Producer Jonathan Larsen (@jtlarsen) on Twitter