The Republican Party has devolved into a single issue party.
While the GOP is split on issues like immigration, the budget, and foreign policy, they have found immutable common ground in their hatred of the president’s health care law. As President Obama aptly pointed out during a press conference on Friday, Republicans have made Obamacare their “holy grail."
Tea Party leaders like Ted Cruz are threatening a government shutdown if the law isn't defunded, and have so far gathered support from more than a dozen colleagues in the Senate.
For that reason, “government shutdown” has become a rallying cry for conservatives across the country, particularly in town halls. At the same time, scores of Republicans—including Mitt Romney, Karl Rove, and Charles Krauthammer—are warning the party that a shutdown would carry with it dangerous political consequences.
In the past 48 hours, two more prominent Republicans have weighed in on the issue.
Mitch McConnell—the senate's top Republican—has largely kept quiet on the issue due to the political dangers of taking an unpopular position among Kentucky's GOP primary voters. But at an event Tuesday, he spelled it out plainly: "I'm for stopping Obamacare, but shutting down the government will not stop Obamacare."
While McConnell’s camp insists that he has not taken sides in the dispute about a shutdown confrontation, the subtext of his remarks are rather clear: Cruz’s government shutdown threat is not the silver bullet to destroy Obamacare that Republicans are being promised.
At an RNC event on Wednesday, former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich issued a warning to his party regarding their Obamacare quest.
“I will bet you, for most of you, that if you go home in the next two weeks while your members of Congress are home and you look them in the eye and you say ‘ what is your positive replacement for Obamacare’, they will have zero answer,” Gingrich said. “We are caught up right now in the culture, and you see if every single day, where as long as we’re negative and as long as we’re vicious and as long as we can tear down our opponent, we don’t need to learn anything. And so we don’t.”
Republicans who weren't around for the last government shutdown might want to pay attention. Gingrich saw firsthand the backlash when Republicans shut down the government in 1995 and tried to take down President Bill Clinton. Clinton won the battle for public opinion and Gingrich ultimately lost his speakership after the party suffered a set of historic defeats in the 1998 midterm elections.
The energy of the Republican base has undoubtedly cast many Republican leaders, including RNC Chair Reince Priebus, in an awkward position.
Priebus was noncommittal on Wednesday when asked whether or not the party should pursue a government shutdown, saying “Look, I’m not going to get into tactics, but I do understand both sides of the argument.”
For Republicans, it’s going to take an unheralded mix of leadership and political savvy to navigate their party’s warring factions while, at the same time, protecting the GOP brand. Who can step up to steer that ship, at the moment, remains an open question.
GOP strategist John Brabender and Democratic strategist Bob Shrum weighed in on Wednesday night's Hardball. Check out the video above.