Saturday, October 19, 2013

What was Really Behind the Republican Shutdown?

"If the Republicans had not fought on ObamaCare,
the compromise would have been over the budget sequester." 
The government shutdown is over and recriminations, ruminations, and machinations are rebounding around the halls of Congress, mainstream media, and the blogosphere. Here I am to add my $.02.

The general wisdom seems to be that Republicans are taking the brunt of the blame for the shutdown, as well they should. Allowing TEA Party members of the House to dictate a defund or die fiscal fiasco was a fool's errand and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was the errand boy. Recriminations within party ranks have made the Republican Party look disorganized to the point of disarray. Speaker Boehner comes off looking particularly bad as leader of his party. Politically, the circus orchestrated by Cruz hurt Speaker Boehner's reputation as leader of a cohesive Party, and seems to have made Cruz a pariah among rank and file Republicans.

President Obama was seen generally as holding the upper hand in refusing to negotiate on the Affordable Care Act under threat on the Republican-led shutdown and the looming possibility of a government default. His position got stronger as the shutdown dragged on and Republicans began vacillating on what they hoped to get out of the impasse.

The Republican cause wasn't helped by some of the ludicrous things Republicans, without a consensus message for once, were saying. Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) told a reporter, "We're not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this and I don't know what that even is." And that was the crux of the matter. Republican leadership knew that getting the President to cave on the ACA -- his signature first term achievement -- was a pipe dream. So what the hell were they hoping to achieve by another round of budget brinkmanship?

It may be that an analysis of the Republican shutdown that assesses the question as a party tactic won't get us a sensible answer. Rather, the shutdown may have been orchestrated by individuals within the party, with help from outside political groups, like the Heritage Foundation and its sister advocacy group and political arm, Heritage Action. The purpose in this case, would be to shift the power base of the party from the moderates to the ultra-conservatives, including the TEA Party. How did they hope to do this? By doing exactly what they did. Making party leadership look bad, and then threatening members coming up for reelection with an all-out primary challenge to replace them with their brand of no-holds barred conservative.

Between now and the 2014 Congressional elections we will see Republicans continue to thwart the President on every front, but mostly on spending. There will continue to be attacks on the Affordable Care Act, but these will be focused on undermining the act, and making it look bad (through such tactics as Congressional investigations), with the hope that Republicans can make it a cause célèbre for the 2016 Presidential election.

It will be interesting to see how Republicans structure their primary for the 2016 election. They would certainly want to avoid an all-out battle with the TEA Party over who the presidential candidate will be, but this might not be possible. People might forget the debacle that was Ted Cruz reading from Dr. Seuss during his irrelevant filibuster, but the angry Republican moderates won't. They'll be a search for a compromise candidate. In steps Jim DeMint. Know who he is?

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