There's perhaps no greater arbiter of the Beltway conventional wisdom -- in all its frustrating, exasperating glory -- than the aggressively centrist Washington Post editorial board. It therefore did not come as a surprise over the weekend when the Post blamed "both sides" for the government shutdown -- Republicans for making ridiculous demands and Democrats for not leading more.
Today, the paper's editorial board apparently changed its mind.
[By] minimal standards, this Congress is failing. More specifically, the Republican leaders of the House of Representatives are failing. They should fulfill their basic duties to the American people or make way for legislators who will.We don't come to that view as rabid partisans. On many of the issues stalemating Washington, we find plenty of blame to go around. We've criticized President Obama's reluctance to pursue entitlement reform. The last time the country reached the debt ceiling, we urged both sides to compromise on revenue and spending in the interest of long-term fiscal soundness.This time, fiscal responsibility isn't even a topic. Instead, Republicans have shut much of the government in what they had to know was a doomed effort to derail the Affordable Care Act.... Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Budget Committee chairman and former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan and their colleagues may be in a difficult political position. Honestly, we don't much care. They need to reopen the government and let it pay its bills.
Jay Rosen called it a "remarkable editorial," paraphrasing the Post's editors: "We'd like to blame both sides. We tried. We've blamed both sides before. But in this case..."
Outside the Beltway, this may seem like inside baseball, but it's worth appreciating the fact that it's editorials like these that end up reflecting and shaping the conventional wisdom.
Republicans will be more inclined to keep their shutdown going if they perceive the political winds at their backs. In other words, if GOP leaders believe they're "winning" some amorphous public-relations game, they'll keep playing it. But it's editorials like these that suggest they are clearly losing.
Part of the problem for Republicans is that no one can understand or even identify their rationale. Roll Call's Steven Dennis had a good tweet on this earlier:
This is no small detail. House Republicans are arguing this week that they couldn't possibly approve a stopgap spending bill that leaves the Affordable Care Act intact. But here's the key detail: they've already approved plenty of stopgap spending bills that leave the Affordable Care Act intact -- including one earlier this year -- without any fuss.
Democrats aren't asking Republicans to do anything different, or accept a compromise, or even to make some painful concession. They're asking Republicans to keep the lights on by doing what they've already done.
Even the laziest, most ardent "blame both sides" proponents are finding it difficult to see how to spread responsibility around evenly.
And for congressional Republicans, that's very bad news, indeed.