Commentary Magazine


Topic: government shutdown

I Still Remember, Senator Cruz

Earlier this week Senator Ted Cruz took to doing what he enjoys most: Lecturing the GOP “establishment” from his moral Mt. Olympus. 

Speaking critically about the vote to raise the debt limit, Cruz–who insisted on a 60-vote threshold to end debate on the measure–said some lawmakers are “willing to mortgage our children’s future” because they “care so much about being praised by the Washington media” and don’t think voters are paying attention. “But sometimes, come November, the people remember,” the junior senator from Texas declared.

Actually, come mid-February, the people still remember. At least I do.

I remember that Senator Cruz championed legislative tactics that resulted in the shutdown of the federal government last October. He apparently wanted another high-stakes showdown–this time over raising the debt ceiling–that would produce essentially the same result.

I remember the move he helped engineer last fall was a disaster for the GOP and harmful to the conservative cause. I remember that nothing was gained substantively. I remember that the American people, by large margins, hated the shutdown–and that the American people, by large margins, blamed Republicans for it. I remember how, thanks in good part to the shutdown, the GOP received the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992. And I remember that Senator Cruz’s tactic deflected attention from the awful rollout of healthcare.gov for several weeks, until the shutdown ended.

That’s not all I remember.

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Earlier this week Senator Ted Cruz took to doing what he enjoys most: Lecturing the GOP “establishment” from his moral Mt. Olympus. 

Speaking critically about the vote to raise the debt limit, Cruz–who insisted on a 60-vote threshold to end debate on the measure–said some lawmakers are “willing to mortgage our children’s future” because they “care so much about being praised by the Washington media” and don’t think voters are paying attention. “But sometimes, come November, the people remember,” the junior senator from Texas declared.

Actually, come mid-February, the people still remember. At least I do.

I remember that Senator Cruz championed legislative tactics that resulted in the shutdown of the federal government last October. He apparently wanted another high-stakes showdown–this time over raising the debt ceiling–that would produce essentially the same result.

I remember the move he helped engineer last fall was a disaster for the GOP and harmful to the conservative cause. I remember that nothing was gained substantively. I remember that the American people, by large margins, hated the shutdown–and that the American people, by large margins, blamed Republicans for it. I remember how, thanks in good part to the shutdown, the GOP received the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992. And I remember that Senator Cruz’s tactic deflected attention from the awful rollout of healthcare.gov for several weeks, until the shutdown ended.

That’s not all I remember.

I remember that Senator Cruz, in the months leading up to the shutdown, accused those who disagreed with his approach of being part of the “surrender caucus.” I remember that he and those he was allied with said that if you didn’t agree with their approach you were a de facto supporter of ObamaCare. And I remember that Senator Cruz did what he did because he cared so much about being praised by populist parts of the Republican base.

I remember it was obvious the tactic Mr. Cruz was pushing was destined to fail, that he went ahead with it anyway, and that now he’d like reporters to talk about things other than his role in the government shutdown.

Senator Cruz, in other words, would like us to forget. But I still remember.

So do others.

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Republicans Dodge Debt Ceiling Disaster

When House Speaker John Boehner told a shocked Republican caucus this morning that he would allow a vote on raising the debt ceiling with no strings attached, it was seen in some quarters as a defeat for the GOP. And, in many ways, it was. A clean debt-ceiling resolution gives President Obama exactly what he wants and signals that there will be no attempt in 2014 by either political party to rein in the deluge of federal spending that feeds a national debt that keeps going up with no limit in sight. It also demonstrates that Boehner has failed yet again to get even a majority of his Republican members, let alone of the entire House, to vote for a bill that would link an increase in the debt ceiling with even modest measures aimed at trimming spending. Boehner was not even capable of passing a bill tied to a popular measure such as reversing cuts in veteran benefits. Most of the GOP caucus seems only interested in another apocalyptic fight to drastically cut spending and refuses to vote for any of Boehner’s compromises, leaving him no choice but to let the debt ceiling go through without strings and relying on the votes of Democrats.

Boehner expressed grave disappointment over his inability to speak for his caucus or to lead them to support a sensible approach to the issue as well as the futility of his efforts to chip away at the debt. Those are troubling developments, both for the speaker and the GOP. But rather than mourning Boehner’s decision, Republicans should be celebrating. A partisan confrontation over the debt ceiling—even one in which Republicans tie support for the increase to sensible spending cuts or a popular measure aimed at helping veterans—would have turned into a repeat of last fall’s political melodrama that ended so badly for the GOP.

The fact that a majority of the House GOP was too stubborn to back the speaker’s efforts to use the debt ceiling in an attempt to push for less spending may have granted the president what he wanted. But Boehner’s waving of the white flag on the debt ceiling also denies the Democrats the only issue that might have helped them win the 2014 midterm elections: a repeat of the GOP’s disastrous government shutdown. Today’s outcome allows Republicans to spend the upcoming months concentrating their fire on the president’s failed policies and the ObamaCare fiasco that threatens to drown the Democrats in a sea of lost insurance coverage, lost jobs, and a stalled economy rather than in defending another suicidal stand that would accomplish nothing but to strengthen their liberal opponents.

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When House Speaker John Boehner told a shocked Republican caucus this morning that he would allow a vote on raising the debt ceiling with no strings attached, it was seen in some quarters as a defeat for the GOP. And, in many ways, it was. A clean debt-ceiling resolution gives President Obama exactly what he wants and signals that there will be no attempt in 2014 by either political party to rein in the deluge of federal spending that feeds a national debt that keeps going up with no limit in sight. It also demonstrates that Boehner has failed yet again to get even a majority of his Republican members, let alone of the entire House, to vote for a bill that would link an increase in the debt ceiling with even modest measures aimed at trimming spending. Boehner was not even capable of passing a bill tied to a popular measure such as reversing cuts in veteran benefits. Most of the GOP caucus seems only interested in another apocalyptic fight to drastically cut spending and refuses to vote for any of Boehner’s compromises, leaving him no choice but to let the debt ceiling go through without strings and relying on the votes of Democrats.

Boehner expressed grave disappointment over his inability to speak for his caucus or to lead them to support a sensible approach to the issue as well as the futility of his efforts to chip away at the debt. Those are troubling developments, both for the speaker and the GOP. But rather than mourning Boehner’s decision, Republicans should be celebrating. A partisan confrontation over the debt ceiling—even one in which Republicans tie support for the increase to sensible spending cuts or a popular measure aimed at helping veterans—would have turned into a repeat of last fall’s political melodrama that ended so badly for the GOP.

The fact that a majority of the House GOP was too stubborn to back the speaker’s efforts to use the debt ceiling in an attempt to push for less spending may have granted the president what he wanted. But Boehner’s waving of the white flag on the debt ceiling also denies the Democrats the only issue that might have helped them win the 2014 midterm elections: a repeat of the GOP’s disastrous government shutdown. Today’s outcome allows Republicans to spend the upcoming months concentrating their fire on the president’s failed policies and the ObamaCare fiasco that threatens to drown the Democrats in a sea of lost insurance coverage, lost jobs, and a stalled economy rather than in defending another suicidal stand that would accomplish nothing but to strengthen their liberal opponents.

Much as he did before to the shutdown fight, Boehner tried to enlist conservative House members in an approach to the debt ceiling rooted in Tea Party’s concern over more spending, but would have sought to conduct the fight from the high ground of a popular position. But any reluctance to pay for the debt and to allow it to continue to increase—no matter how reasonable the strings that would have been attached to a GOP plan—was a political loser. Americans don’t like debt or big government spending in principle, but they also know that any attempt to bring a halt to the spending binge in a partisan manner could do real damage to the country’s credit rating and ultimately the economy as a whole.

Just as they did during the shutdown battle, Democrats deserve a lot of the blame for the failure to act on the debt. Their refusal to negotiate in good faith on either ObamaCare or spending caused the shutdown as much as the kamikaze instincts of Tea Party Republicans. But shutting down the government, even over ObamaCare funding, was deeply unpopular. The same applies to debt ceiling negotiations in which Democrats have also refused to deal fairly or address the country’s long-term problems.

It may be unfair that the GOP is blamed more than the Democrats for shutdowns or debt fights, but that is irrelevant to a political reality in which liberal domination of the mainstream media creates a distorted playing field. If Republicans want to win elections, they have to stay away from situations in which the media can brand them as irrational extremists, which is exactly what happened with the shutdown. As bad as things look for Boehner and his dysfunctional crew today, avoiding a debt-ceiling showdown denies the president and his party another chance to portray Republicans as irresponsible obstructionists who can’t be trusted with the serious task of governing.

Letting Democrats pass the debt increase is a bitter pill for Boehner and the GOP to swallow. But by doing it, they have also set the stage for a 2014 campaign that can be fought on their terms rather than those of the Democrats. That gives them a good chance not only to win back control of the Senate but to gain House seats and set themselves up for a 2015 session in which the party can not only begin to reverse the damage Obama has done but also set the stage for a return to the White House in 2016. All that was made possible by Boehner’s surrender. Given the stakes involved, that’s the sort of exchange that conservatives should like.

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Not So Fast, Senator Cruz

Senator Ted Cruz is tired of talking about the government shutdown.

“I understand that there are a lot of folks in the media that love to talk about the shutdown from four months ago,” he told reporters:

What we ought to be talking about is the fact that we have the lowest labor force participating in 30 years since 1978, that Obamacare has taken away more than 5 million people’s health insurance plans, that people are hurting, that income inequality has increased under the Obama agenda and that there is an abuse of power and lawlessness. So that’s what we ought to be talking about. Efforts that distract from that conversation, I think, are deliberate efforts of smoke and mirrors distracting from the questions coming from the American people.

Now why oh why would Senator Cruz want to stop talking about the government shutdown? After all, before it occurred he insisted it wouldn’t be such a bad thing–and since it’s occurred he’s claimed it was a wonderful success. “I think we accomplished a great deal,” according to Cruz.

Of course it did.

Don’t forget that during the lead-up to the shutdown Mr. Cruz insisted that those who didn’t agree with his tactics were part of the “surrender caucus” and he and his colleagues argued that if you didn’t follow their tactic, you were a de facto supporter of ObamaCare.

Of course it’s clear to every sentient human being that the Cruz & Co. gambit badly backfired. It achieved nothing useful. It deflected attention away from the awful rollout of the ObamaCare website. And it damaged the reputation of the GOP. The public, in overwhelming numbers, didn’t like the government shutdown–and by overwhelming numbers voters blamed Republicans for it. 

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Senator Ted Cruz is tired of talking about the government shutdown.

“I understand that there are a lot of folks in the media that love to talk about the shutdown from four months ago,” he told reporters:

What we ought to be talking about is the fact that we have the lowest labor force participating in 30 years since 1978, that Obamacare has taken away more than 5 million people’s health insurance plans, that people are hurting, that income inequality has increased under the Obama agenda and that there is an abuse of power and lawlessness. So that’s what we ought to be talking about. Efforts that distract from that conversation, I think, are deliberate efforts of smoke and mirrors distracting from the questions coming from the American people.

Now why oh why would Senator Cruz want to stop talking about the government shutdown? After all, before it occurred he insisted it wouldn’t be such a bad thing–and since it’s occurred he’s claimed it was a wonderful success. “I think we accomplished a great deal,” according to Cruz.

Of course it did.

Don’t forget that during the lead-up to the shutdown Mr. Cruz insisted that those who didn’t agree with his tactics were part of the “surrender caucus” and he and his colleagues argued that if you didn’t follow their tactic, you were a de facto supporter of ObamaCare.

Of course it’s clear to every sentient human being that the Cruz & Co. gambit badly backfired. It achieved nothing useful. It deflected attention away from the awful rollout of the ObamaCare website. And it damaged the reputation of the GOP. The public, in overwhelming numbers, didn’t like the government shutdown–and by overwhelming numbers voters blamed Republicans for it. 

So here’s my recommendation: Unless and until Senator Cruz admits the errors of his ways–unless he is willing to concede how flawed his judgment was and explains to us what he’s learned since then–the press should keep asking the junior senator from Texas about the shutdown. Again and again and again.

If Ted Cruz thinks it was such a terrific idea, let him claim ownership of it at every conceivable opportunity.

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Has John Boehner Learned His Lesson?

It was a short sound bite but it was replayed endlessly yesterday, angering some conservatives and leaving liberals chortling. When House Speaker John Boehner was asked during a press conference with other Republican leaders about criticisms from conservative activist groups of the budget deal struck by Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, he exploded:

REPORTER: Mr. Speaking, most major conservative groups have put out statements blasting this deal. Are you –

BOEHNER: You mean the groups that came out and opposed it before they ever saw it?

REPORTER: Are you worried –

BOEHNER: They are using our members and they are using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous. Listen, if you’re for more deficit reduction, you’re for this agreement.

This is not the first time Boehner has responded to criticism with anger and frustration. But it was a dramatic change of tone on the part of the convivial and often-teary-eyed and sentimental House speaker when it came to the conservative groups and their Tea Party supporters within his caucus. After all, it was only three months ago that Boehner was dragged reluctantly into a damaging government shutdown by the same organizations and members who were carping about the Ryan deal yesterday. Though no one should expect Boehner to be a changed man from the indecisive speaker of the shutdown crisis, he may have learned at least a couple of important lessons from that difficult experience. The days of the Tea Party tale wagging the House Republican big dog appear to be over.

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It was a short sound bite but it was replayed endlessly yesterday, angering some conservatives and leaving liberals chortling. When House Speaker John Boehner was asked during a press conference with other Republican leaders about criticisms from conservative activist groups of the budget deal struck by Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, he exploded:

REPORTER: Mr. Speaking, most major conservative groups have put out statements blasting this deal. Are you –

BOEHNER: You mean the groups that came out and opposed it before they ever saw it?

REPORTER: Are you worried –

BOEHNER: They are using our members and they are using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous. Listen, if you’re for more deficit reduction, you’re for this agreement.

This is not the first time Boehner has responded to criticism with anger and frustration. But it was a dramatic change of tone on the part of the convivial and often-teary-eyed and sentimental House speaker when it came to the conservative groups and their Tea Party supporters within his caucus. After all, it was only three months ago that Boehner was dragged reluctantly into a damaging government shutdown by the same organizations and members who were carping about the Ryan deal yesterday. Though no one should expect Boehner to be a changed man from the indecisive speaker of the shutdown crisis, he may have learned at least a couple of important lessons from that difficult experience. The days of the Tea Party tale wagging the House Republican big dog appear to be over.

The incident and the debate about the budget deal are bringing out into the open a conservative civil war that had previously been conducted behind closed doors, at least as far as the House leadership was concerned. Prior to the shutdown there was little doubt that Boehner wasn’t happy about the way some House conservatives and, even more importantly, advocacy groups like Heritage Action and FreedomWorks were helping to limit his options in negotiations with the Democrats. Though he made it clear enough that he knew the decision to try and force the defunding of ObamaCare was doomed to failure and that it would hurt his party, Boehner wound up bowing to the demands of Heritage, Ted Cruz, and the rest of the suicide caucus in the House.

The thinking then was that Boehner worried that if he thwarted those who believed such radical tactics were the only possible response to the health-care law’s implementation, the House Republican membership would be irretrievably split and his speakership might be threatened. What followed was a disaster that not only materially damaged the Republican Party but, just as importantly, served to obscure the ObamaCare rollout fiasco for three weeks as the mainstream media focused instead on those who had warned him against letting himself be buffaloed into a futile shutdown. After 17 days of a shutdown, Republicans were forced to give in having accomplished nothing other than to make his party and congressional Republicans look just like the extremist caricature Democrats had tried to paint them as being.

However, the conclusion of this drama also exploded the myth that Heritage and company really had the power to thwart any effort to pull back from the brink. When Boehner finally concluded a deal that was little more than a face-saving surrender to end the shutdown, the activists screamed bloody murder and warned they would back primary challenges against any Republican who went along. But the tide had shifted against them and few heeded their threats. By the time the dust settled, even some on the right like Senator Rand Paul were admitting the whole thing had been a mistake.

The speaker emerged from this trial chastened by the experience but perhaps also realizing that the bark of the Tea Party caucus was worse than its bite. Many Republicans will oppose the Ryan deal that more or less formalizes a truce with the Democrats on budget issues for the next year and Heritage and others will, as they did with the shutdown, try and make it a litmus test of conservative bona fides. But Boehner and even a conservative deep thinker like Ryan have rightly come to the conclusion that the agreement with Senate Budget Committee chair Patty Murray is not only as much as they can reasonably hope to get. Even more to the point, they understand that paralyzing the government and Congress with manufactured crises, in order to push for more deficit reduction and the entitlement reform the nation needs but won’t get so long as control of Congress is split between the two parties, is a critical mistake. The nation as a whole and even most rank-and-file Republicans have had enough of the shutdown mentality. Three months ago, it may have seemed as if Boehner had no choice but to accede to the demands of the Tea Partiers. The shutdown may have convinced him that he doesn’t have to do that anymore.

Having methodically worked his way to the leadership over the course of a long career in the House, Boehner is no pushover. But during his time as speaker he hasn’t exactly come across as the sort of politician whom challengers cross at their peril. But the events of the last few months may mean that he will never again be bullied into taking a course of action that he knows is mistaken. This week he has called the Tea Party’s bluff in exactly the manner that many in his party wish he had done back in September. If he sticks to this resolve, both the Congress and the Republican Party will be better off for it.

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Impeachment Talk Is Shutdown Rerun

Last week the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss the way President Obama has overstepped his authority in enforcing—and not enforcing—the law with respect to ObamaCare and other topics. Though, as National Review noted in a report on the event, the members initially shied away from the “I” word, some eventually warmed to the notion that impeachment was an appropriate response to his decisions. That willingness to tiptoe up to a discussion about impeachment was celebrated by liberals like the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank who saw the hearing as a partisan waste of time as well as an indication that much of the House GOP caucus is “crazy.” But it was defended by NR’s Andrew McCarthy, who not only thinks it’s an important discussion but sees impeachment as “the only remedy” for Obama’s “systematic presidential lawlessness.”

Interestingly, Milbank agrees with McCarthy about Obama’s overreach, writing that, “this president has stretched the bounds of executive authority almost as much as his predecessor, whose abuses bothered Republicans much less (and Democrats much more).” But leaving aside the question of hypocrisy, McCarthy believes the president’s violations actually rise to the level of the constitutional bar of “high crimes and misdemeanors” for impeachment and thinks the only obstacle to putting the president on trial is political will. While he agrees that, as was the case in 1998 when Republicans did impeach Bill Clinton, there is no national political will in the nation to depose Barack Obama, he seems to think the GOP should be working to change public opinion on this point.

But though I agree with McCarthy that Obama’s presidency is a failure at home and abroad and that he has played fast and loose with the law in a manner that is highly disturbing, the dreaded GOP establishment is right to avoid this topic like the plague. What McCarthy and those trying to raise the volume on impeachment are doing is merely the sequel to the same movie that led Republicans to shut down the government in October. Just as attempts to shut down the government were seen by most Americans as an indication that the GOP placed partisanship over their responsibility to govern, they will view impeachment talk as proof that they are trying to criminalize political disagreements. Going down that road is an act of political suicide motivated by despair.

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Last week the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss the way President Obama has overstepped his authority in enforcing—and not enforcing—the law with respect to ObamaCare and other topics. Though, as National Review noted in a report on the event, the members initially shied away from the “I” word, some eventually warmed to the notion that impeachment was an appropriate response to his decisions. That willingness to tiptoe up to a discussion about impeachment was celebrated by liberals like the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank who saw the hearing as a partisan waste of time as well as an indication that much of the House GOP caucus is “crazy.” But it was defended by NR’s Andrew McCarthy, who not only thinks it’s an important discussion but sees impeachment as “the only remedy” for Obama’s “systematic presidential lawlessness.”

Interestingly, Milbank agrees with McCarthy about Obama’s overreach, writing that, “this president has stretched the bounds of executive authority almost as much as his predecessor, whose abuses bothered Republicans much less (and Democrats much more).” But leaving aside the question of hypocrisy, McCarthy believes the president’s violations actually rise to the level of the constitutional bar of “high crimes and misdemeanors” for impeachment and thinks the only obstacle to putting the president on trial is political will. While he agrees that, as was the case in 1998 when Republicans did impeach Bill Clinton, there is no national political will in the nation to depose Barack Obama, he seems to think the GOP should be working to change public opinion on this point.

But though I agree with McCarthy that Obama’s presidency is a failure at home and abroad and that he has played fast and loose with the law in a manner that is highly disturbing, the dreaded GOP establishment is right to avoid this topic like the plague. What McCarthy and those trying to raise the volume on impeachment are doing is merely the sequel to the same movie that led Republicans to shut down the government in October. Just as attempts to shut down the government were seen by most Americans as an indication that the GOP placed partisanship over their responsibility to govern, they will view impeachment talk as proof that they are trying to criminalize political disagreements. Going down that road is an act of political suicide motivated by despair.

That conservatives would head down the same troublesome road so soon after the political disaster of the shutdown is an indication that some on the right simply aren’t thinking straight about their struggle against Obama’s liberal agenda. We were told by Senator Ted Cruz and others that any tactic, even contemplating a shutdown or a default, was worth it because if ObamaCare was implemented it would mean the end of liberty. Two months later that kind of rhetoric looks pretty silly, not just because it was over the top but because they were wrong about ObamaCare. Far from it being untouchable, the fiasco of the bill’s rollout has made it entirely possible to imagine its collapse, if not its eventual repeal. Lacking confidence in the system and the ability of Republicans to go on fighting for their principles, some conservatives considered a kamikaze charge over the cliff as the only honorable response to the fact that a Democratic Senate and a reelected Democratic president would not repeal or delay ObamaCare.

So, too, does McCarthy seem to argue that impeachment is the only way to stop Obama from transgressing legal norms in implementing the health-care bill or enforcing immigration laws. His reaction to the frustrations of working within the system is to try and build support for the most extreme remedy afforded by the Constitution.

But, just like the meltdown, this is not only a misreading of the political mood of the nation but bad political advice for an opposition that has gained back crucial ground in the weeks since the shutdown ended and the public’s attention has shifted from GOP foolishness to Obama’s follies.

McCarthy makes some strong arguments about the legitimacy of impeachment as a response to political misdeeds by a president, especially when he quotes Alexander Hamilton’s definition of high crimes and misdemeanors as abuses of the “public trust,” violations of a “political” nature in the sense that “they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.” But impeachment is not an appropriate answer to political disagreements, even if they involve the way laws are enforced. I agree with McCarthy the president is wrong to attempt to selectively enforce provisions of laws. Yet most Americans rightly see impeachment as an abandonment of democratic politics. They believe an attempt to overturn the results of the presidential election held just last year via impeachment in the absence of genuine crimes is a political trick and will make those who try it pay a high price.

Is accepting this widespread view an act of weakness by a feckless GOP establishment, as McCarthy seems to indicate? To the contrary, it is an act of maturity to understand that, as with the shutdown, transgressing political norms in this manner is viewed by most Americans as far worse than anything Obama might be doing. Criminalizing political differences, something Democrats have often resorted to when Republicans are in power, isn’t just a political mistake. It undermines the very system conservatives are seeking to preserve. 

As bitter as it may be for Republicans to accept, the proper remedy to Obama’s policies is to win the next midterm elections and then the presidency in 2016 if they can. As the last few weeks have shown, those preaching that extreme remedies are required to avert the imminent demise of our liberties have lost faith in our system as well as in the power of conservative ideas to win back the majority of Americans.

Talk of impeachment, like the shutdown, is a gift to the president and the Democrats since it illustrates a lack of seriousness on the part of some Republicans. If any of them go down this road, they will be doing conservatism a great disservice and helping, as the shutdown briefly did, the president keep his head above water in an otherwise disastrous second term.

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The Shutdown and the VA Governor’s Race

Some of the most vocal advocates for shutting down the federal government if the Affordable Care Act wasn’t defunded (always a delusional hope) are now blaming the Republican “establishment” for the defeat of Ken Cuccinelli in Tuesday’s race to be the next governor of Virginia. Some voices on the right are even suggesting that the “establishment” wanted Cuccinelli to lose. Why? In order to deny the Tea Party a victory.

That may (regrettably) be true in some cases. But there’s something else that complicates this theory a bit, and something which Jonathan touched on in his post. According to Cuccinelli’s own campaign, one of the factors for his loss–not the only one for sure, but one of them–was the government shutdown. Why? Because Virginia is home to hundreds of thousands of federal employees. So the shutdown succeeded in diverting attention away from the Affordable Care Act onto the government shutdown. Meaning that for a couple of crucial weeks Cuccinelli was on defense as opposed to offense. And in a close race, that could have made a difference.

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Some of the most vocal advocates for shutting down the federal government if the Affordable Care Act wasn’t defunded (always a delusional hope) are now blaming the Republican “establishment” for the defeat of Ken Cuccinelli in Tuesday’s race to be the next governor of Virginia. Some voices on the right are even suggesting that the “establishment” wanted Cuccinelli to lose. Why? In order to deny the Tea Party a victory.

That may (regrettably) be true in some cases. But there’s something else that complicates this theory a bit, and something which Jonathan touched on in his post. According to Cuccinelli’s own campaign, one of the factors for his loss–not the only one for sure, but one of them–was the government shutdown. Why? Because Virginia is home to hundreds of thousands of federal employees. So the shutdown succeeded in diverting attention away from the Affordable Care Act onto the government shutdown. Meaning that for a couple of crucial weeks Cuccinelli was on defense as opposed to offense. And in a close race, that could have made a difference.

As this story reports:

As Obamacare was about to roll out to the public on Oct. 1, Cuccinelli stepped up criticism of the new system. But the government shutdown started that same day, forcing the candidate to shift gears and pronounce his support of federal workers, even as he continued to lead followers in rousing declamations of the federal government as “the biggest opponent of them all.”

“We were debating the shutdown and not the Obamacare fight,” [Chris LaCivita, Cuccinelli’s chief campaign strategist], said.

After the election Mr. LaCivita said, “I can’t help but ask myself, what would have been the result had he had five weeks of this discussion instead of just 2½?”

A good question.

As a Virginian who proudly voted for Cuccinelli, here’s the post-election thought I have: If Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, and those who supported their efforts, hadn’t undertaken their doomed-from-the-start gambit, Mr. Cuccinelli would have done better. Whether Cuccinelli would have won if the government shutdown had never taken place is impossible to know, and in retrospect the national party could certainly have done more to help Cuccinelli. But this much is clear: advocates of the shutdown ended up temporarily helping rather than hurting ObamaCare. And in the process they lent a big assist to Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe.

Remind me again why the shutdown was such a great idea.

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The Revenge of Politics

Searching for an overarching cause of the result in last night’s Virginia gubernatorial election is going to consist mostly of Democrats and Republicans talking past each other. That’s because, to some degree, they are both right. ObamaCare’s disastrous rollout was not enough to doom Terry McAuliffe, but neither was his victory an affirmation that ObamaCare poses no real political risk to Democrats. Likewise, it seems the government shutdown hurt Ken Cuccinelli, but not enough to make Tea Party conservatism toxic in the swing state of Virginia.

Additionally, neither contender was viewed as a particularly good candidate, making it unrealistic for those on the left and right to try to make either candidate a stand-in for his national party. (Democrats seem to consider McAuliffe an embarrassment even in victory, and for good reason.) But in fact this lack of an overarching theme is a theme in itself. That is, politics–party and individual, national and local–and not ideology offers a pretty simple explanation both for the election in Virginia and the one in New Jersey, in which Republican Chris Christie won reelection in a landslide in a heavily Democratic state. Bergen County Record columnist Charles Stile explains in a lengthy, but eminently worthwhile column how Christie cruised to victory:

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Searching for an overarching cause of the result in last night’s Virginia gubernatorial election is going to consist mostly of Democrats and Republicans talking past each other. That’s because, to some degree, they are both right. ObamaCare’s disastrous rollout was not enough to doom Terry McAuliffe, but neither was his victory an affirmation that ObamaCare poses no real political risk to Democrats. Likewise, it seems the government shutdown hurt Ken Cuccinelli, but not enough to make Tea Party conservatism toxic in the swing state of Virginia.

Additionally, neither contender was viewed as a particularly good candidate, making it unrealistic for those on the left and right to try to make either candidate a stand-in for his national party. (Democrats seem to consider McAuliffe an embarrassment even in victory, and for good reason.) But in fact this lack of an overarching theme is a theme in itself. That is, politics–party and individual, national and local–and not ideology offers a pretty simple explanation both for the election in Virginia and the one in New Jersey, in which Republican Chris Christie won reelection in a landslide in a heavily Democratic state. Bergen County Record columnist Charles Stile explains in a lengthy, but eminently worthwhile column how Christie cruised to victory:

Christie’s bold leadership during Superstorm Sandy, the shrewd marketing of his Jersey tough guy persona and several important legislative accomplishments are indeed important factors in the strong support for his reelection. But while the public was seeing all of that, Christie discreetly and methodically courted Democrats with every lever of power at his disposal. By the end, many of those Democrats would supply the manpower, money or simply the photo ops for his campaign.

Long before Buono entered a race that no other Democratic contender wanted to come near, Christie had already won the campaign. While the cameras and the social-media feeds and the political pundits focused on Christie’s forceful personality, his often over-the-top comments and his welcoming embrace of President Obama after Sandy, Christie was planting the seeds for his own reelection, Demo­cratic mayor by Democratic mayor, Democratic boss by Democratic boss, Demo­cratic union leader by Democratic union leader. As the ancient Chinese military tome “The Art of War” noted, “Every battle is won before it is fought.”

That was only part of it, of course. Christie’s work to recruit Democrats to his campaign certainly helped, but his interactions with constituents were crucial to his reelection. Outside New Jersey, he is known for his made-for-YouTube confrontations. But within the state, far more powerful are the conversations Christie has with voters that aren’t YouTube-friendly.

Christie simply worked hard to make sure he was heard all around the state, and refused to accept the premise that there were any voters he couldn’t convince if given the chance. As the New York Times reports in its recap of Christie’s victory:

For example, he won over Michael Blunt, a black Democrat and mayor of Chesilhurst, a largely black borough in South Jersey, with relentless wooing. Mr. Blunt, who recalled how Mr. Christie held a town hall in his community, steered more municipal aid to it and invited him to a Juneteenth celebration, marking the end of slavery, at the State House, impressing him with his knowledge of the holiday. And the governor invited black elected officials to Drumthwacket, the governor’s mansion near Princeton, and told them how a black friend in college took him to a historically black campus to demonstrate how it felt to be in the minority.

“If a person has no problem going in enemy territory to explain his policies, that person we really need to look at,” said Mr. Blunt, who was a delegate for Mr. Obama last year.

Christie won over numerous left-leaning voters not with slogans but with classic rope-line politics. As a skilled practitioner of local politics, Christie was able to keep national politics at bay–something neither McAuliffe nor Cuccinelli was able to do.

On this point, Politico’s piece on the “six takeaways” from the Virginia race is instructive. Briefly, here are reporter James Hohmann’s six lessons, though the article is worth reading in full for Hohmann’s explanation of each:

  • Obamacare almost killed McAuliffe.

  • Cuccinelli might have won if he had more money.

  • It was a base election.

  • The gender gap mirrored the presidential.

  • Obama himself was a mixed bag.

  • The shutdown still hurt Republicans.

Two of those stand out immediately as national issues: the government shutdown hurting Cuccinelli and ObamaCare hurting McAuliffe. The fact that it was a base election, according to Hohmann, would seem to indicate that the two candidates failed precisely where Christie succeeded: convincing the unconvinced. The “gender gap” is a complicated, but obviously national issue in the context of whether it “mirrored the presidential.”

And why might Cuccinelli have won with more money? In large part because he would have been able to run more ads and compete with the negative advertising blitz that McAuliffe was able to purchase with help from big-money, out of town, national politicians (like the Clintons, who were absent from the Jersey race, and Michael Bloomberg).

Members of the House of Representatives are rarely immune from public mood swings. Governors can be, but the Virginia gubernatorial election is a reminder of how easily a statewide race can be nationalized in such a media-saturated environment.

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Madison’s Moment

He may not have a grand monument like Thomas Jefferson; the pop culture revival of John Adams; a name synonymous with courage and heroism like George Washington; or the institutional legacy of Alexander Hamilton. But James Madison has still managed to work his way back into the daily experience of Washington D.C.’s political conversation. Madison–constitutional framer, secretary of state, president–is being invoked furiously by both Republicans and Democrats because of his consistent advocacy for the separation of powers that produces compromise and gridlock by design.

Unfortunately for Madison (though he might not find it unfortunate at all), he is being invoked for his culpability in the recent government shutdown. From the Washington Post to National Review to the Washington Examiner to even the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, there is striking agreement that if you’re looking for someone to blame for the recent polarization in Washington, the culprit of choice is Madison.

That’s the good news–sort of–because whether or not you think Madison should be praised for his conception of the separation of powers (and he most certainly should), it is at least accurate to credit him with being a driving force behind the system. The bad news is that some of those who come to praise Madison do so based on a misreading of history that Madison would scarcely recognize. There has been much hyperbole aimed at conservatives from liberals who believe that the government shutdown was unprecedented–this view, keep in mind, relies on the idea that the history of the world began with Barack Obama’s election in 2008–and as such was the manifestation of a malevolent world view on the part of Republicans in Congress. Here is the opening paragraph from John Judis’s cover story in the New Republic:

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He may not have a grand monument like Thomas Jefferson; the pop culture revival of John Adams; a name synonymous with courage and heroism like George Washington; or the institutional legacy of Alexander Hamilton. But James Madison has still managed to work his way back into the daily experience of Washington D.C.’s political conversation. Madison–constitutional framer, secretary of state, president–is being invoked furiously by both Republicans and Democrats because of his consistent advocacy for the separation of powers that produces compromise and gridlock by design.

Unfortunately for Madison (though he might not find it unfortunate at all), he is being invoked for his culpability in the recent government shutdown. From the Washington Post to National Review to the Washington Examiner to even the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, there is striking agreement that if you’re looking for someone to blame for the recent polarization in Washington, the culprit of choice is Madison.

That’s the good news–sort of–because whether or not you think Madison should be praised for his conception of the separation of powers (and he most certainly should), it is at least accurate to credit him with being a driving force behind the system. The bad news is that some of those who come to praise Madison do so based on a misreading of history that Madison would scarcely recognize. There has been much hyperbole aimed at conservatives from liberals who believe that the government shutdown was unprecedented–this view, keep in mind, relies on the idea that the history of the world began with Barack Obama’s election in 2008–and as such was the manifestation of a malevolent world view on the part of Republicans in Congress. Here is the opening paragraph from John Judis’s cover story in the New Republic:

In the Federalist Papers, James Madison promised that a large republic with a representative government would avoid the “instability, injustice and confusion” that had plagued many nations in Europe. In a representative government, he reasoned, disruptive factions would be unable to gain sufficient power to dissolve the social contract. The people’s representatives would not necessarily be paragons of virtue, but they would be less likely to succumb to “local prejudices and schemes of injustice.” In the 225 intervening years, Madison has been proven correct, with two great exceptions. One was the Civil War. The other was the 16-day government shutdown of October 2013.

Madison would, of course, be appalled. He was, after all, president during the War of 1812. That war would split the nation so profoundly as to be dubbed, variously, a civil war all its own and a second war of independence. And as for succumbing to “local prejudices and schemes of injustice,” the war’s political polarization would crest with the Hartford Convention of 1814 at which Federalists from New England would either threaten secession openly or implicitly. They had already, as Richard Brookhiser notes, been “smuggling supplies to the British army in Canada.” Shy of secession, they made noises about striking a separate peace with the British.

The “or else” tacked on to these threats was a list of constitutional amendments the conventioneers wanted adopted, among them restrictions on presidential eligibility aimed specifically at curbing the electoral success of the sons of Virginia. For those who think Republicans engineered the 2013 shutdown because they could not win elections fair and square and therefore contrived to take the country “hostage,” one wonders what they would make of such personalities as Gouverneur Morris (“Unquestionably it is civil war. And what of it?”) and Timothy Pickering.

But of course Madison was far from blameless. One clever flourish of the conventioneers was in writing that “in cases of deliberate, dangerous and palpable infractions of the constitution” it is appropriate for “a state to interpose its authority” with the federal government. This language echoed nearly word for word a section of the Virginia Resolution of 1798, which was written by Madison himself. (Madison’s authorship was not yet publicly revealed, but as it was promulgated by his party in his home state, his affiliation with and approval of its ideas were widely assumed.)

The Virginia Resolution, in turn, along with Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolution, was a protest against the Alien and Sedition Acts which were put in place by the Federalists and used by President John Adams (and an enabling Supreme Court) to silence domestic criticism and stack the deck electorally against the Republicans. Madison talked Jefferson out of pushing secession in response to the Acts, but he would no doubt scoff at the idea that the government shutdown of 2013 was an unprecedented manifestation (aside from the Civil War) of partisan polarization, disrupting a history of harmony that he would not recognize.

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The War on Rational Conservatism

What exactly are conservatives arguing about these days? After listening to the latest speeches of Senator Ted Cruz denouncing his critics and reading Erick Erickson’s latest piece at Red State in which he angrily denounces the editors of National Review as “well fed” and complacent enablers of liberalism, I think those who are not already clued in to the subtext of the dispute would be forgiven for being puzzled about what it was all about. Those parachuting into this debate from the outside will struggle mightily to see what the two sides disagree about in terms of principles or policies and will discover little evidence of any actual split on anything of importance. All participants oppose President Obama’s policies and ObamaCare. They’d like to see the president replaced by a conservative at the next presidential election and ObamaCare to be repealed. But that unity of purpose isn’t enough to prevent what is starting to take on the appearance of an all-out civil war within the ranks of the conservative movement. Those on the right have grown used to seeing liberal mainstream publications and broadcast outlets doing stories about conservatives tearing themselves apart that are motivated more by a desire to fuel the dispute than any objective proof of a significant split. But in this case, it’s hard to avoid the impression that what we are witnessing is actually nothing less than a full-blown civil war among conservatives that may have profound implications for the outcome of both the 2014 and 2016 elections.

At the heart of this is the ongoing debate about the wisdom of the government shutdown that resulted from the Republican majority in the House of Representatives following Cruz’s advice about tying the continuing resolution funding the government to a proposal to defund ObamaCare. As many sober conservatives predicted, the strategy failed. It accomplished nothing other than to damage the Republican Party in the eyes of most of the nation, although it did burnish Cruz’s reputation among those on the right who think the GOP is an assembly of sellouts because they failed to accomplish the impossible. In response to calls from those who were correct about this for a reassessment, Cruz and his followers have begun a campaign whose purpose seems to be to trash all those who had doubts about the senator’s misguided tactic and to damn them as not merely faint-hearts but traitors to the cause of conservatism. That this is arrant nonsense almost goes without saying. But the longer this goes on and the nastier it gets, the more convinced I’m becoming that far from a meaningless spat that will soon be forgotten, the shutdown may become the impetus for a genuine split within conservative ranks that will fester and diminish the chances that liberals will be prevented from retaining their grip on power in Washington.

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What exactly are conservatives arguing about these days? After listening to the latest speeches of Senator Ted Cruz denouncing his critics and reading Erick Erickson’s latest piece at Red State in which he angrily denounces the editors of National Review as “well fed” and complacent enablers of liberalism, I think those who are not already clued in to the subtext of the dispute would be forgiven for being puzzled about what it was all about. Those parachuting into this debate from the outside will struggle mightily to see what the two sides disagree about in terms of principles or policies and will discover little evidence of any actual split on anything of importance. All participants oppose President Obama’s policies and ObamaCare. They’d like to see the president replaced by a conservative at the next presidential election and ObamaCare to be repealed. But that unity of purpose isn’t enough to prevent what is starting to take on the appearance of an all-out civil war within the ranks of the conservative movement. Those on the right have grown used to seeing liberal mainstream publications and broadcast outlets doing stories about conservatives tearing themselves apart that are motivated more by a desire to fuel the dispute than any objective proof of a significant split. But in this case, it’s hard to avoid the impression that what we are witnessing is actually nothing less than a full-blown civil war among conservatives that may have profound implications for the outcome of both the 2014 and 2016 elections.

At the heart of this is the ongoing debate about the wisdom of the government shutdown that resulted from the Republican majority in the House of Representatives following Cruz’s advice about tying the continuing resolution funding the government to a proposal to defund ObamaCare. As many sober conservatives predicted, the strategy failed. It accomplished nothing other than to damage the Republican Party in the eyes of most of the nation, although it did burnish Cruz’s reputation among those on the right who think the GOP is an assembly of sellouts because they failed to accomplish the impossible. In response to calls from those who were correct about this for a reassessment, Cruz and his followers have begun a campaign whose purpose seems to be to trash all those who had doubts about the senator’s misguided tactic and to damn them as not merely faint-hearts but traitors to the cause of conservatism. That this is arrant nonsense almost goes without saying. But the longer this goes on and the nastier it gets, the more convinced I’m becoming that far from a meaningless spat that will soon be forgotten, the shutdown may become the impetus for a genuine split within conservative ranks that will fester and diminish the chances that liberals will be prevented from retaining their grip on power in Washington.

I think Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru were on to something when they wrote in their National Review essay that sent Erickson over the edge that the problem behind the angst on the right is despair. I touched on the same theme in an essay in the Intercollegiate Review published last month as part of its symposium on what’s the matter with conservatism, as well as in a blog post published here titled “Tea Party Despair and ObamaCare.” Frustrated by the Supreme Court’s illogical decision that affirmed ObamaCare’s constitutionality and by the results of the 2012 election, many conservatives have more or less given up on conventional politics. Right now all they are interested in is a fight, no matter how quixotic. And anyone who won’t charge over the cliff with them strikes such people as something far worse than a political foe.

In response, Erickson and others who have written about this topic ground their attacks on the so-called Republican “establishment” as being analogous to the situation in the 1950s when William F. Buckley founded the modern conservative movement as part of a protest against the way Republicans had become enablers of the Democrats’ liberal agenda. Regardless of the political facts of the day, they say the only rational response of conservatives to the situation is to take a principled stand much like Buckley’s famous declaration that the purpose of National Review was to “stand athwart history” and to yell “stop.” Those who won’t do that are no better than the Republicans who opposed Buckley. Even more important, they say that those who are more concerned with Republicans winning elections even at the cost of their souls than standing up for principle really are RINOs and traitors no matter what their positions on the issues might be.

But it bears repeating there is a big difference between the state of the Republican Party when Buckley was first yelling “stop” and today.

Buckley and his allies were justified in trying to radically change the nature of the GOP because many of its leaders weren’t “timid” conservatives who were afraid of challenging the legitimacy of liberal government. Nelson Rockefeller and much of the GOP establishment of that time really were liberals and were not shy about saying so. Buckley had no interest in electing more liberals even if they called themselves Republicans, but he also famously said conservatives should always back the most electable conservative, not the most right-wing candidate.

The battle that was waged over the soul of the GOP over the next quarter century after NR’s founding was fierce because there were real ideological differences at stake. By contrast, Cruz and Erickson’s targets are not merely fellow conservatives but among the most conservative individuals and outlets in the country. Their sin is not the genuine dispute about the virtue of the welfare state and big government that drove the internal arguments in the Republican Party in that era, but rather one of attitudes. The editors of NR as well as hard-core conservatives like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are not blasted for their beliefs as Nelson Rockefeller and Co. were but because they differ with Cruz on tactics.

What we are seeing here is nothing less than a call for a Leninist-style schism on the right in which NR and McConnell are treated as the Mensheviks to the Tea Party’s Bolsheviks. Anyone who won’t hue to the Cruz party line isn’t merely wrong but, as Erickson’s piece seems to indicate, worthy of being read out of the conservative movement and denounced as betrayers.

This makes sense only if you are of the mindset that anyone not willing to shut down the government is indistinguishable from Barack Obama no matter how conservative they might be. As such, what we are witnessing is not an attempt to convert the Republican Party into a gathering of conservatives—something a previous generation of conservatives accomplished under the leadership of Ronald Reagan—but a war on rational conservatism whose only end is the immolation of the movement the Gipper helped build.

What does this portend?

It’s too soon to know for sure, but right now I’m starting to think that those inclined to pooh-pooh the chances for a genuine split are wrong. If that portion of the conservative base listens to Cruz and Erickson they are going to spend much of the next year trying to exact revenge on the senator’s critics. And if that means helping to knock off genuine conservatives like McConnell who will almost certainly be replaced in the Senate not by more Cruz clones but by liberal Democrats, they think it’s no great loss because such people are more interested in purifying the GOP than in beating the Democrats. Assembling a national coalition that could enable conservatives to govern is a matter of complete indifference to them and they seem openly contemptuous of the necessity of gaining Republican majorities and a Republican president in order to advance the conservative agenda.

This drama will be played out in many states next year in the midterm elections, but it will come to a head in 2016 when a single formidable moderate conservative may possibly be opposed by a split field of right-wingers in the race for the GOP presidential nomination. If so, those today yelling about the betrayal of Cruz are likely to be louder and even more self-destructive. A few more years in which Tea Partiers stop seeing themselves as the vanguard of the conservative movement but as members of a different political alignment altogether could lead to exactly the kind of right-wing walkout from the GOP that was threatened in 2008 and 2012 but never actually materialized. If so, we may look back on the aftermath of the shutdown as not just a foolish argument started by frustrated conservatives but the beginning of a schism that enabled the Democrats to consolidate their hold on power in Washington for the foreseeable future.

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What’s Good for Cruz May Be Bad for GOP

The national media appears to be shocked at the hero’s welcome Senator Ted Cruz got when he returned home to Texas this past weekend. They are equally mystified at the applause the Tea Party favorite gets when he hits the road to speak in places like Iowa, a crucial state for those with presidential ambitions, where he will headline a GOP event this Friday. Though the government shutdown he helped engineer has crashed Republican Party poll numbers, Cruz appears to be living a charmed life lately as his attempt to blame the failure of his idea on less dogmatic Republicans is playing very well among the members of his Tea Party base. Where someone else might take this moment to engage in some introspection about what went wrong, Cruz has stayed on the offensive, and that’s exactly what his fans want. Which means that although chances of Republican success in 2014 seem to have diminished, Cruz’s stock is going up. And that is something that ought to scare not only mainstream Republicans who remain appalled at his ability to maneuver the GOP into a destructive shutdown but also fellow conservatives who are thinking about running for president.

Cruz may be reviled by the rest of the Senate Republican caucus, despised by the national media and even has been subjected to criticism by conservative pundits who rightly flayed him for a performance that did not achieve its stated aims and hurt his party. But it would be a mistake to confuse the bad reviews he has gotten for his role in the shutdown with an accurate reading of his influence or his chances in 2016. A few months ago, he was just an obnoxious freshman whose refusal to play by the Senate rules had given him a following on the right. Today, it must be acknowledged that the shutdown has made him a genuine power in the Republican Party who could well be heading into 2016 with a considerable edge over other conservatives.

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The national media appears to be shocked at the hero’s welcome Senator Ted Cruz got when he returned home to Texas this past weekend. They are equally mystified at the applause the Tea Party favorite gets when he hits the road to speak in places like Iowa, a crucial state for those with presidential ambitions, where he will headline a GOP event this Friday. Though the government shutdown he helped engineer has crashed Republican Party poll numbers, Cruz appears to be living a charmed life lately as his attempt to blame the failure of his idea on less dogmatic Republicans is playing very well among the members of his Tea Party base. Where someone else might take this moment to engage in some introspection about what went wrong, Cruz has stayed on the offensive, and that’s exactly what his fans want. Which means that although chances of Republican success in 2014 seem to have diminished, Cruz’s stock is going up. And that is something that ought to scare not only mainstream Republicans who remain appalled at his ability to maneuver the GOP into a destructive shutdown but also fellow conservatives who are thinking about running for president.

Cruz may be reviled by the rest of the Senate Republican caucus, despised by the national media and even has been subjected to criticism by conservative pundits who rightly flayed him for a performance that did not achieve its stated aims and hurt his party. But it would be a mistake to confuse the bad reviews he has gotten for his role in the shutdown with an accurate reading of his influence or his chances in 2016. A few months ago, he was just an obnoxious freshman whose refusal to play by the Senate rules had given him a following on the right. Today, it must be acknowledged that the shutdown has made him a genuine power in the Republican Party who could well be heading into 2016 with a considerable edge over other conservatives.

The disconnect between the way Cruz’s antics have played with the Tea Party and the perception of his conduct among the rest of the electorate, not to mention the Republican leaders, shouldn’t surprise anyone. Cruz was sent to the Senate by Texans to shake up the Senate and to oppose the increase in debt and the growth in federal power that ObamaCare symbolizes. Throughout his 10 months in office, he has consistently played to the crowd outside of Washington that isn’t interested in how laws get passed or the way politicians get things done in the Capitol. When Cruz tells the GOP base that President Obama and the Democrats would have cracked and given in on ObamaCare if only more Republicans had backed him, they believe it even if it flies in the face of common sense.

But while party leaders vow they won’t get pressured by Cruz and his friends in the House Tea Party caucus into another shutdown fiasco (as Senator Mitch McConnell keeps saying, the second kick of the mule to your head has no educational value), sticking to his rhetorical guns only makes the Texan more popular among those on the right who want no accommodation or compromise with Democrats even if it means a shutdown or a debt default.

The national polling numbers for Republicans as well as those in the generic congressional vote are getting to the point where the shutdown may have made some heretofore-safe GOP House seats competitive and some competitive races safe for the Democrats. The Republicans’ chances of taking back the Senate next year must also be deemed as having moved from even to a long shot. A year is a long time in politics. The ObamaCare rollout disaster and the president’s tin-eared refusal to adequately explain this problem may start the process of reversing the effects of the shutdown and make 2014 a good year for Republicans after all. But it is also possible that the idea that the GOP is run by a pack of extremists led by Cruz that is relentlessly pushed by the liberal mainstream media will take hold in the public imagination to the point where it can’t be reversed. Cruz’s increased notoriety may help depress the value of the GOP brand nationally to the point where the party may be in bigger trouble than anyone thinks.

But even if this worst-case scenario plays out for Republicans, don’t expect this to diminish Cruz’s hold on many conservatives. Indeed, by standing out in this manner and being willing to fight no matter how hopeless the struggle, he may have already become a conservative folk hero and leapfrogged over others who were hoping to run in 2016.

Cruz is a particular threat to Senator Rand Paul. Paul appeared to have expanded the libertarian base he inherited from his father into a faction that was big enough to fuel an effective challenge for the 2016 Republican nomination. But right now, Cruz’s anti-ObamaCare suicide charge appears to have supplanted Paul in the hearts of grassroots conservatives whose enmity for Obama and big government is boundless. Nor should other potential candidates like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal or 2012 runner-up Rick Santorum assume that Cruz couldn’t threaten their support among religious conservatives.

To note Cruz’s popularity on the right is not to assume that he is the inevitable 2012 GOP nominee. More mainstream candidates with better chances in a general election like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie or even Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker may be able to either win without competing for right-wing voters or transcend Cruz’s appeal.

But no one should underestimate Cruz at this point. Right now it looks like Cruz’s popularity on the right seems to have an inverse relationship to his party’s falling stock. If this trend continues, the GOP looks to be in big trouble next year and in 2016 even as Cruz becomes a credible threat to win his party’s presidential nomination. You don’t have to be a deep thinker about Washington politics or even much of a cynic to realize that perhaps this was the point of much of what we’ve just gone through.

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Can GOP Win Budget Language War?

There are a lot of reasons why Republicans lost the government shutdown. The fact that it was a stupid tactic without a chance of success is at the top of the list. But a large reason why the Democrats seized the metaphorical high ground and never relinquished it was their ability to label the GOP as essentially taking the government hostage because of their demand that ObamaCare be defunded. Their ability to do this is based in no small measure by the way the liberal mainstream media parroted the Democrats’ spin in which Republicans were branded as terrorists. But now that the shutdown is over and the GOP (or at least its leadership) realizes another such effort would be suicidal, one of their priorities should be to start refighting the language war as they prepare to negotiate a budget agreement.

That appears to be what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was doing yesterday when he staked out some familiar territory in opposing the president’s demand for new “revenue” if the two parties are to ever agree on how to keep the government funded in the future. Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, McConnell said:

Unfortunately, every discussion we’ve had about this in the past has had what I would call a ransom attached to it: $1 trillion in new tax revenues. We don’t have this problem because we don’t tax enough in this country; we have this problem because we spend too much.

McConnell’s right, and though this may seem like he’s been saying the same thing for years, his attempt to turn the kidnapper meme around on the president is significant. Rather than tearing each other apart or blaming McConnell (as Ted Cruz does) for the failure of a no-win strategy, this is exactly the line of argument the GOP caucus needs to stick to in the coming months if they are not to be bulldozed once again by the White House.

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There are a lot of reasons why Republicans lost the government shutdown. The fact that it was a stupid tactic without a chance of success is at the top of the list. But a large reason why the Democrats seized the metaphorical high ground and never relinquished it was their ability to label the GOP as essentially taking the government hostage because of their demand that ObamaCare be defunded. Their ability to do this is based in no small measure by the way the liberal mainstream media parroted the Democrats’ spin in which Republicans were branded as terrorists. But now that the shutdown is over and the GOP (or at least its leadership) realizes another such effort would be suicidal, one of their priorities should be to start refighting the language war as they prepare to negotiate a budget agreement.

That appears to be what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was doing yesterday when he staked out some familiar territory in opposing the president’s demand for new “revenue” if the two parties are to ever agree on how to keep the government funded in the future. Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, McConnell said:

Unfortunately, every discussion we’ve had about this in the past has had what I would call a ransom attached to it: $1 trillion in new tax revenues. We don’t have this problem because we don’t tax enough in this country; we have this problem because we spend too much.

McConnell’s right, and though this may seem like he’s been saying the same thing for years, his attempt to turn the kidnapper meme around on the president is significant. Rather than tearing each other apart or blaming McConnell (as Ted Cruz does) for the failure of a no-win strategy, this is exactly the line of argument the GOP caucus needs to stick to in the coming months if they are not to be bulldozed once again by the White House.

At the heart of this problem for Republicans is the fact that their opponents’ demands have been every bit as ideological as their own in the various budget negotiations. If Republicans are adamant that spending must be reined in and that, as McConnell rightly asserts, the country’s problem isn’t that taxes are too low, then how can that position be branded as extremist when Democrats are digging in their heels, demanding that entitlement programs be preserved intact and that taxes must go up? Rather than merely rail at the unfairness of it all, it’s time conservatives started calling out Obama in the same manner that they have been labeled.

Can it work?

Well, as some on the right would be the first to point out, it doesn’t matter what they say if it is only being transmitted to much of the public via the filter of mainstream liberal publications and broadcast outlets. But such a defeatist attitude fails to take into account that earlier generations of conservatives—in particular Ronald Reagan—managed to change the way the country thought about the welfare state in an even more hostile media environment. If Reagan could convince Americans that government was the problem in an era when national television news meant three liberal talking heads and without the help of Fox News and conservative talk radio, how is it that those who claim to be his successors are incapable of changing the way contemporary issues are framed?

It may not be fair to compare anyone to the “Great Communicator,” but the lesson here is not that Republicans need another Reagan. That would be nice, but a more realistic hope is for their talking heads and leaders to concentrate their fire on the unwillingness of the president and his supporters to drop their addiction to taxes and spending. Language not only counts, it is decisive in determining the outcome of political battles. Tea Partiers who are currently obsessed with anger at those on the right who understood that the shutdown was a fiasco need to refocus their ire at the White House. If Republicans hope not to be schooled again by Obama, they’d better start following McConnell’s lead and turning the hostage metaphor around.

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Immigration Reform’s Death Certificate

Chalk up one more casualty of the government shutdown. If there were any doubts that there was virtually no chance that the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate is dead on arrival in the House, it came in the form of comments from Senator Marco Rubio yesterday on Fox News Sunday. Rubio, the key conservative member of the gang of eight that crafted the reform bill that was, after a long fight, adopted by the Senate, said he endorsed a decision by the House Republican leadership to approach the issue by separate bills rather than the omnibus legislation that he had worked so hard to pass. Throughout the Senate fight, Rubio had defended the idea that creating a pathway to citizenship for the millions already here illegally should go forward simultaneously with efforts to strengthen border security. But, after the bitterness of the past month during which President Obama had refused to negotiate with Republicans, such an approach was now impossible:

What Congressman Labrador is addressing is something that I hear from opponents of our efforts all the time, and I think that’s a valid point, and that is this: you have a government and a White House that has consistently decided to ignore the law and how to apply it. Look at the health care law. The law is on the books, they decide which parts of it to apply and which parts not to apply. They issue their own waivers without any congressional oversight. And what they say is, you’re going to pass an immigration law that has both some legalization aspects and some enforcement. What’s not to say that this White House won’t come back and cancel the enforcement aspects of it? …

Now, this notion that they’re going to get in a room and negotiate a deal with the president on immigration is much more difficult to do for two reasons. Number one, because of the way that president has behaved towards his opponents over the last three weeks, as well as the White House and the things that they’ve said and done. And number two, because of what I outlined to you. So, I certainly think that immigration reform is a lot harder to achieve today than it was just three weeks ago because of what’s happened here. Again, I think the House deserved the time and space to have their own ideas about how they want to move forward on this. Let’s see what they can come up with. It could very well be much better than what the Senate has done so far.

It can be argued that the gang of eight’s bill was doomed in the House long before the Senate passed it and Rubio’s relative silence on the issue in recent months made it clear that he had already jumped ship on it. But his statement is the official death certificate. Though President Obama said last week that immigration is a top priority for him in the coming months, the leftover nastiness from the shutdown and debt ceiling battles means he might as well forget it.

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Chalk up one more casualty of the government shutdown. If there were any doubts that there was virtually no chance that the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate is dead on arrival in the House, it came in the form of comments from Senator Marco Rubio yesterday on Fox News Sunday. Rubio, the key conservative member of the gang of eight that crafted the reform bill that was, after a long fight, adopted by the Senate, said he endorsed a decision by the House Republican leadership to approach the issue by separate bills rather than the omnibus legislation that he had worked so hard to pass. Throughout the Senate fight, Rubio had defended the idea that creating a pathway to citizenship for the millions already here illegally should go forward simultaneously with efforts to strengthen border security. But, after the bitterness of the past month during which President Obama had refused to negotiate with Republicans, such an approach was now impossible:

What Congressman Labrador is addressing is something that I hear from opponents of our efforts all the time, and I think that’s a valid point, and that is this: you have a government and a White House that has consistently decided to ignore the law and how to apply it. Look at the health care law. The law is on the books, they decide which parts of it to apply and which parts not to apply. They issue their own waivers without any congressional oversight. And what they say is, you’re going to pass an immigration law that has both some legalization aspects and some enforcement. What’s not to say that this White House won’t come back and cancel the enforcement aspects of it? …

Now, this notion that they’re going to get in a room and negotiate a deal with the president on immigration is much more difficult to do for two reasons. Number one, because of the way that president has behaved towards his opponents over the last three weeks, as well as the White House and the things that they’ve said and done. And number two, because of what I outlined to you. So, I certainly think that immigration reform is a lot harder to achieve today than it was just three weeks ago because of what’s happened here. Again, I think the House deserved the time and space to have their own ideas about how they want to move forward on this. Let’s see what they can come up with. It could very well be much better than what the Senate has done so far.

It can be argued that the gang of eight’s bill was doomed in the House long before the Senate passed it and Rubio’s relative silence on the issue in recent months made it clear that he had already jumped ship on it. But his statement is the official death certificate. Though President Obama said last week that immigration is a top priority for him in the coming months, the leftover nastiness from the shutdown and debt ceiling battles means he might as well forget it.

Even as he disavowed any interest in persuading House Republicans to adopt his bill or to trust the administration to implement it or any other measure, Rubio still defended his decision to take part in the gang of eight. He rightly noted once again that the “amnesty” for illegals that conservative critics of reform decry better describes the status quo than a future in which they would be brought in from the shadows after paying fines and placed at the back of the line. He’s also right that the country desperately needs reform of a broken system and that those who favor stricter enforcement should applaud the Senate bill’s emphasis on the subject, which some have even dubbed overkill.

But even though he’s sticking to his guns as to why the bill was right on policy, Rubio is finally conceding that it is politically impossible.

Earlier in the year, many conservatives, including those who support immigration reform, thought President Obama wanted the bipartisan bill to fail so he could cynically continue to use the issue to hammer Republicans in the next election cycle. But the president wisely kept silent through much of the spring and stayed out of the Senate fight, enabling the bill’s passage. By claiming that the president has undermined bipartisanship even on this topic, Rubio is declaring that bipartisanship on any issue has become impossible in the current political environment.

There will be those who will blame this on the GOP architects of the shutdown strategy and there will be some truth to that assertion. But partisan gutter fighting is a two-way street. By ruthlessly choosing to exploit his advantage and not negotiate with Republicans over the shutdown and the debt ceiling, the president has made trust across the political aisle a thing of the past.

While there may be months of bitter wrangling over immigration ahead of us, Rubio’s statement makes it clear that Congress is no more capable of crafting a compromise on this issue than they were on other topics. That’s bad for those who care about this issue and bad for those Republicans who, like Rubio, knew this was an opportunity for their party to jettison the anti-immigrant sentiments that are undermining its future.

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Who Lost the Shutdown Matters

Most of the nation is just glad it’s over. The government shutdown and the related debt ceiling showdown was widely seen as a symptom of political dysfunction that hurt the country and led to declining favorability ratings for everyone involved though Republicans suffered more in that respect than President Obama and the Democrats. Now that it’s finished, most of us may still not think highly of the government but the standoff illustrated that even a conservative-leaning country does not like the idea of things falling apart. We may not want things to go back to business as usual in Washington but neither are we enamored of the notion of letting it fall apart. Americans are understandably tired of the debate about what led to the shutdown and moving on to the next big thing or crisis. But Republicans are still arguing about just what happened. And that is a good thing.

 The GOP can’t just move on, as Bill Clinton’s supporters used to say about his misdeeds, in the wake of the shutdown. It must assess what just happened and sort out who was right and who was wrong. Doing so isn’t merely sour grapes or recriminations. It’s a necessary post-mortem on a disaster that must be conducted. That’s why it’s vital that the accusations that the Republicans’ humiliating surrender to President Obama was somehow the fault of those who were skeptical of the shutdown tactic is so pernicious. If the lesson that many in the GOP base draw from these events is that they need to listen and obey Senator Ted Cruz, they are not only fated to undergo more such catastrophes in the future; they are ensuring that the Democrats will be running Washington for the foreseeable future.

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Most of the nation is just glad it’s over. The government shutdown and the related debt ceiling showdown was widely seen as a symptom of political dysfunction that hurt the country and led to declining favorability ratings for everyone involved though Republicans suffered more in that respect than President Obama and the Democrats. Now that it’s finished, most of us may still not think highly of the government but the standoff illustrated that even a conservative-leaning country does not like the idea of things falling apart. We may not want things to go back to business as usual in Washington but neither are we enamored of the notion of letting it fall apart. Americans are understandably tired of the debate about what led to the shutdown and moving on to the next big thing or crisis. But Republicans are still arguing about just what happened. And that is a good thing.

 The GOP can’t just move on, as Bill Clinton’s supporters used to say about his misdeeds, in the wake of the shutdown. It must assess what just happened and sort out who was right and who was wrong. Doing so isn’t merely sour grapes or recriminations. It’s a necessary post-mortem on a disaster that must be conducted. That’s why it’s vital that the accusations that the Republicans’ humiliating surrender to President Obama was somehow the fault of those who were skeptical of the shutdown tactic is so pernicious. If the lesson that many in the GOP base draw from these events is that they need to listen and obey Senator Ted Cruz, they are not only fated to undergo more such catastrophes in the future; they are ensuring that the Democrats will be running Washington for the foreseeable future.

Let me restate, as I have done many times, that I think there is much that is admirable about Cruz as well as the Tea Party movement in general. His resistance to business as usual on Capitol Hill is refreshing and needed. Conservatives should be pleased about the fact that there is a core group of Republicans in the House and the Senate that understands that the power of government must limited and that the GOP should not be co-opted in order to assist the implementation of President Obama’s plans to expand it. The days of Republican leaders operating as, in Newt Gingrich’s memorable takedown of Bob Dole, “the tax collector for the welfare state” should be over. Moreover, ObamaCare deserved to be defunded. Indeed, it must continue to be opposed wherever possible, especially as its disastrous rollout makes clear just how much of a boondoggle this vast expansion of government truly is.

But there is a difference between principled conservatism and destructive zealotry. The willingness of Cruz to cynically call conservatives to arms this fall on behalf of a strategy that never had a prayer of success calls into question his judgment. Republicans cannot run the government with only control of the House of Representatives. The attempt to defund ObamaCare could not succeed and Cruz knew it. The fact that President Obama had been daring, even begging the GOP to try it, should have tipped off the conservative base that not only could it not work, but that it would materially damage their cause. And, to one’s great surprise (including Cruz), that’s exactly what happened.

But in the aftermath of the disaster, Cruz and some of the conservative talking heads on radio and TV who urged Republicans to go down this path are not taking responsibility for their mistake. Instead, they are blaming the surrender on other conservatives, especially Senate Republicans, for not blindly following Cruz. Others even insist that the GOP should have continued to hold out in the hope that the Democrats would crack, even if that meant extending the shutdown and even brushing up against the danger of a default.

To put it mildly, this is bunk.

Yes, there were plenty of Republican senators that warned that the tactic couldn’t work and urged the House GOP caucus not to try it. And they continued to call for compromise and demand that President Obama negotiate with the Republicans to end the standoff. But to assert, as Cruz and some Tea Partiers do, that it was this factor that enabled Obama to prevail is worse than instant revisionist history; it is an exercise in the sort of magical thinking that conservatives have always associated more with utopian liberals and Marxists than their own movement.

Even if no Republican had dared to mention that Emperor Cruz wasn’t wearing any clothes that wouldn’t have made President Obama any more willing to bend to the GOP’s will. He had no reason to do so since the longer the shutdown and the closer to default the nation got, the more blame his opponents would get for the disagreement.

Yes, part of this is a function of the liberal bias of the mainstream media. Life, especially for conservatives in Washington, is unfair. But it is difficult to blame even a biased media for the fact that some conservatives were willing to play Russian roulette with the economy, even if their motivation was a good cause like stopping ObamaCare.

So long as the Democrats control the White House and the Senate, ObamaCare can’t be repealed or defunded. That is frustrating for conservatives but that’s the price you pay for losing elections in a democracy. That doesn’t mean they must simply accept that ObamaCare is “the law of the land” and shut up. But it does mean they can’t overturn it even if they all held their breath until they turned blue on the steps of the Capitol. Understanding this doesn’t make one a liberal or a RINO or any of the other insults hurled at conservatives who criticize Cruz by his adherents. It just means you are a conservative who lives in the real world rather than the fantasy Washington in which some on the right prefer to dwell.

The “blame the establishment” meme we are hearing this week has little to do with a genuine belief that the efforts of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to craft a deal that ended this nightmare was the difference between victory or defeat. What is about is an effort on the part of Cruz and his crew to craft a myth about the shutdown that will enable them to evade blame for their mistake.

If conservatives listen to them and go out and spend the next year attempting to take down McConnell and other conservatives in Senate primaries, it will increase Cruz’s influence in the party. But it won’t give him more power in the Senate since success for some of the Tea Party alternatives in those primaries will mean, as it did in 2010 and 2012, that the Republicans will blow another chance to take back the Senate.

Having taken the party over the cliff in the shutdown, Cruz and friends seek to repeat the exercise in the future and that is why they are still doing their best to abuse those who knew better all along. If Republicans let them, they’ll have no one but themselves to blame for what follows.

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Exaggerating the Shutdown’s Cost

The federal government of the United States, the largest fiscal entity on the planet, was shut for 16 days. What was the economic impact?

The mainstream media, of course, is always happy to report bad news that they can blame on Republicans. The New York Times, for instance, reported today “economists said that the intransigence of House Republicans would take a bite out of fourth-quarter growth, which will affect employment, business earnings and borrowing costs. The ripple from Washington will be felt around the globe.” The intransigence of Harry Reid and Barack Obama, apparently, had nothing to do with it.

To be sure there were costs. Hotel reservations in Washington, D.C., were down about 8.3 percent (but liquor sales, always robust in the District, were up about 3 percent.) Enterprises dependent on shuttered national parks, such as restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops, certainly took a hit. Furloughed federal employees did not receive their salaries, and their travel and other expenses ceased.

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The federal government of the United States, the largest fiscal entity on the planet, was shut for 16 days. What was the economic impact?

The mainstream media, of course, is always happy to report bad news that they can blame on Republicans. The New York Times, for instance, reported today “economists said that the intransigence of House Republicans would take a bite out of fourth-quarter growth, which will affect employment, business earnings and borrowing costs. The ripple from Washington will be felt around the globe.” The intransigence of Harry Reid and Barack Obama, apparently, had nothing to do with it.

To be sure there were costs. Hotel reservations in Washington, D.C., were down about 8.3 percent (but liquor sales, always robust in the District, were up about 3 percent.) Enterprises dependent on shuttered national parks, such as restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops, certainly took a hit. Furloughed federal employees did not receive their salaries, and their travel and other expenses ceased.

According to ABC News, Moody’s Analytics says that the shutdown cost $23 billion, or $1.4375 billion per day. The country’s GDP is about 46 billion a day. Standard and Poor’s, which had estimated 4th quarter growth at 3 percent, now says it will be closer to 2 percent. Others have different figures. IHS  Global Insight, according to NBC News, cut its 4th quarter GDP estimates from 2.2 percent growth to 1.6 percent growth. These figures, especially this early after the end of the shutdown, are guesstimates at best.

But the important point is how much of that lost GDP is lost forever? The trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that was cancelled last week might well be rescheduled for next week, or next year. Government orders for goods and services were put on hold, but they will be ordered now that the shutdown is over. The furloughed federal workers will now be paid for the days they were idled.

The last shutdown, which lasted 17 days in 1995-96, caused a hit to the GDP in those quarters. But the next two quarters saw above average economic growth, so that the long-term economic growth was essentially unaffected. Indeed, the only real loss here in the long term may be the work product of the furloughed federal workers. But I’ll guess that the productivity of federal bureaucrats is not one of the wonders of the world.

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Can the Obama Revival Succeed?

Give the architects of the Republican attempt to use the threat of a shutdown to stop ObamaCare funding some credit. They have done what few of us thought was possible only a couple of months ago. In August, even liberals were discussing President Obama’s slide into irrelevancy as he morphed from a re-elected president to a scandal-plagued lame duck. Yet after several months of a weak economy, failed legislative initiatives, domestic scandals and foreign humiliations, the president was able to emerge today and rightly claim victory over conservatives in the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis. In the best humble brag fashion, he claimed no one had won in the shutdown but having worked hard to bring just such a confrontation about for the past two years, it’s obvious that he has emerged as the strongest player in the capital from the political chaos that has just concluded.

It bears repeating that had Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee and their friends in the House of Representatives not coaxed House Speaker John Boehner into going along with a strategy that had no chance of succeeding, conservatives could have used the last two weeks highlighting the disastrous ObamaCare rollout. But instead of focusing the country on this classic illustration about the perils of big government, Obama was able to stand before the country today and extol the virtues of government in a way that would have been difficult had not conservatives played right into his hands.

But now that the GOP is picking itself off the floor after their humiliating surrender yesterday, the question remains as to whether the president has regained enough momentum to score some other victories over them in the coming months. It is difficult to gauge exactly how much political capital the president has gotten out of his tough guy approach to the shutdown. But even if we concede that he is certainly a lot stronger than he was two months ago, he is not likely to enjoy another such moment of triumph again. That is, provided that Boehner and the rest of the Republican Party don’t let Cruz anywhere near the driver’s wheel again.

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Give the architects of the Republican attempt to use the threat of a shutdown to stop ObamaCare funding some credit. They have done what few of us thought was possible only a couple of months ago. In August, even liberals were discussing President Obama’s slide into irrelevancy as he morphed from a re-elected president to a scandal-plagued lame duck. Yet after several months of a weak economy, failed legislative initiatives, domestic scandals and foreign humiliations, the president was able to emerge today and rightly claim victory over conservatives in the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis. In the best humble brag fashion, he claimed no one had won in the shutdown but having worked hard to bring just such a confrontation about for the past two years, it’s obvious that he has emerged as the strongest player in the capital from the political chaos that has just concluded.

It bears repeating that had Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee and their friends in the House of Representatives not coaxed House Speaker John Boehner into going along with a strategy that had no chance of succeeding, conservatives could have used the last two weeks highlighting the disastrous ObamaCare rollout. But instead of focusing the country on this classic illustration about the perils of big government, Obama was able to stand before the country today and extol the virtues of government in a way that would have been difficult had not conservatives played right into his hands.

But now that the GOP is picking itself off the floor after their humiliating surrender yesterday, the question remains as to whether the president has regained enough momentum to score some other victories over them in the coming months. It is difficult to gauge exactly how much political capital the president has gotten out of his tough guy approach to the shutdown. But even if we concede that he is certainly a lot stronger than he was two months ago, he is not likely to enjoy another such moment of triumph again. That is, provided that Boehner and the rest of the Republican Party don’t let Cruz anywhere near the driver’s wheel again.

It needs to be remembered that one aspect of the president’s victory speech today was true. There were no true winners in the shutdown because, as the polls consistently showed, everyone in Washington has suffered a decline in popularity including the president and the Democrats. Republicans are, of course, in a worse position than the Democrats as surveys showed that anywhere from 10 to 20 percentage points more people though the GOP deserved more of the blame for the shutdown than the Democrats. But every poll has also showed negative favorability ratings for the President and his party too. Any other president who got only a 37 percent favorable rating (as was the case in one AP poll last week) would be considered to be in a free fall as was the case the last time it happened during George W. Bush’s second term.

The next big fight will be in the budget negotiations that will soon start as Congress begins the slow motion prelude to the next threat of a shutdown or debt ceiling expiration. The president’s “no negotiations” stance during the shutdown was irresponsible and helped precipitate the crisis but it also strengthened his standing with his supporters. After that performance, it is not likely that Republicans can be persuaded to think that he will blink the next time the two parties go to the brink.

But if the GOP can avoid be tagged with threats of shutdowns and defaults, they will remember that talks about reforming entitlements and cutting spending are their strong points. The acceptance of the sequester — which may not be ideal but has illustrated that cutting spending is possible — has shown that they’ve largely won the argument about the need to reduce expenditures and the debt. So long as Cruz and Lee are not allowed to steer the GOP into another ditch, Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stand a good chance of gaining a far more favorable resolution of the next budget crisis.

Nor can the president assume he will win on other issues, such as his desire for a comprehensive farm bill boondoggle or even on immigration reform, where he can count on the support of many Republicans. As his failed effort to get gun control legislation through Congress earlier this year showed, the president has no talent for building coalitions or persuading people to compromise. That’s because he is personally allergic to the concept and openly contemptuous of his political foes in a way that makes it impossible for him to win them over even when it might be in their interests to join with him.

Once he lost control of both houses of Congress in 2010 after the public punished the Democrats for the stimulus and ObamaCare, we found out this is a president who can only win when the GOP hands him a victory on a silver platter. Without such aid, he will always falter due to his lack of leadership and decisiveness. And he will continue to be dogged by the ongoing failure of ObamaCare whose negative impact on the economy will soon overshadow the talk about the damage down by the shutdown. Those factors should weigh more heavily in voters’ minds next November than Cruz’s antics, leaving the president even weaker in his final two years in office.

This is a good day for the president and he would be a fool not to try and use it as the launching point for a political counter-offensive aimed at making us forget how miserable the first nine months of 2013 were for him. But unless the Republicans blow themselves up again without much Democratic assistance, this may be as good as it gets until it’s time to pack up and go home.

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The Right’s Epistemic Closure

In a story in the Washington Post, we read this:

And despite what most see as a debacle for Republicans, a core group of conservatives insisted Tuesday that they are winning their battle to force concessions from Democrats on fiscal issues.

The president, they say, has been forced into a negotiation, even though he has said he will cede nothing in exchange for opening the government and raising the debt ceiling. The nation’s attention has been focused on problems with the health-care law. And, they say, making Boehner move to the right is itself a victory.

“People said, ‘Don’t dare shut the government down, because the American people will hate you.’ And we’ve got resolve,” said Rep. John Fleming (La.). Fleming backed Boehner’s approach Tuesday morning.

“We’ve won in a lot of ways,” he said. “There are a lot of barriers we’ve broken down here.”

That’s not all:

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) said conservatives have succeeded in exposing problems with the health-care law.

“Oh my gosh, we’ve lit up Obamacare for the whole nation,” he said, describing what his wing of the party had won in the shutdown. “Look, the rollout was atrocious, this is a fundamentally flawed plan, and we have made it crystal-clear to the American public that we stand with them on Obamacare.”

This is fairly extraordinary. The results of the approach first championed by Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, and embraced by a significant number of House Republicans, resulted in (a) no substantive changes to the Affordable Care Act; (b) an increase in its popularity; (c) diverting attention away from the epically incompetent roll out of the new health care exchanges; (d) the GOP’s popularity dropping to the lowest point for either party since Gallup began asking the question in 1992; (e) more than washing away the gains Republicans had made on the issues over the course of this year; (f) reviving the Obama presidency, which until the shutdown was drifting and suffering a terrible year; and (g) set back GOP prospects in the 2014 mid-term elections.

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In a story in the Washington Post, we read this:

And despite what most see as a debacle for Republicans, a core group of conservatives insisted Tuesday that they are winning their battle to force concessions from Democrats on fiscal issues.

The president, they say, has been forced into a negotiation, even though he has said he will cede nothing in exchange for opening the government and raising the debt ceiling. The nation’s attention has been focused on problems with the health-care law. And, they say, making Boehner move to the right is itself a victory.

“People said, ‘Don’t dare shut the government down, because the American people will hate you.’ And we’ve got resolve,” said Rep. John Fleming (La.). Fleming backed Boehner’s approach Tuesday morning.

“We’ve won in a lot of ways,” he said. “There are a lot of barriers we’ve broken down here.”

That’s not all:

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) said conservatives have succeeded in exposing problems with the health-care law.

“Oh my gosh, we’ve lit up Obamacare for the whole nation,” he said, describing what his wing of the party had won in the shutdown. “Look, the rollout was atrocious, this is a fundamentally flawed plan, and we have made it crystal-clear to the American public that we stand with them on Obamacare.”

This is fairly extraordinary. The results of the approach first championed by Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, and embraced by a significant number of House Republicans, resulted in (a) no substantive changes to the Affordable Care Act; (b) an increase in its popularity; (c) diverting attention away from the epically incompetent roll out of the new health care exchanges; (d) the GOP’s popularity dropping to the lowest point for either party since Gallup began asking the question in 1992; (e) more than washing away the gains Republicans had made on the issues over the course of this year; (f) reviving the Obama presidency, which until the shutdown was drifting and suffering a terrible year; and (g) set back GOP prospects in the 2014 mid-term elections.

Apart from that, it was a huge success.

People like Representatives Fleming and Harris are living in a closed world, a fantasy land, a fairy tale. They seem to be impervious to evidence — even overwhelming evidence — that contradicts what they believe. And so they have convinced themselves that the disaster engineered by a significant group of House Republicans, following the lead of Ted Cruz & Company, was a success.

Is what we’re seeing simply ludicrous spin, or something else that goes deeper? Is it a species of delusion that is rooted in epistemic closure? Neither explanation is good, but the latter is, from the perspective of one who deeply cares about conservatism, much more worrisome. And I suspect that it is, unfortunately, a good deal closer to the truth. 

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Cruz’s Lack of Surprise is Surprising

Senator Ted Cruz reacted to the collapse of the strategy that he had urged on the Republican Party with remarkable sangfroid today. While saying that he would not seek to block the agreement to end the shutdown, Cruz tacitly conceded that he had lost. But he predictably blamed it all on the weak willed “Washington establishment” that refused to listen to the voice of the people and trash ObamaCare and thereby preserved the “status quo.” There’s an element of truth to that as most politicians could use a little shaking up and where Cruz to limit it his activity to messing up the establishment’s hair on a regular basis rather than bullying his party into suicidal tactics, he would not deserve the opprobrium that is being launched in his direction today. But the key phrase he kept repeating today was that he was “not surprised.”

Oh really, senator?

Wasn’t it Cruz who told Republicans that if they only went along with him and passed a bill funding the government while eliminating money for ObamaCare, that the other side would blink? If he wasn’t surprised that this happened, that means, contrary to what he had been telling us for months, he knew very well that this was the only possible outcome for the shutdown. If he knew this would happen, why did he keep saying that the GOP would win if it held out? As such, instead of railing at the insincerity and corruption of the establishment, Tea Partiers and other conservatives who rightly wish to stop ObamaCare, should be asking some tough questions about Cruz’s cynicism.

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Senator Ted Cruz reacted to the collapse of the strategy that he had urged on the Republican Party with remarkable sangfroid today. While saying that he would not seek to block the agreement to end the shutdown, Cruz tacitly conceded that he had lost. But he predictably blamed it all on the weak willed “Washington establishment” that refused to listen to the voice of the people and trash ObamaCare and thereby preserved the “status quo.” There’s an element of truth to that as most politicians could use a little shaking up and where Cruz to limit it his activity to messing up the establishment’s hair on a regular basis rather than bullying his party into suicidal tactics, he would not deserve the opprobrium that is being launched in his direction today. But the key phrase he kept repeating today was that he was “not surprised.”

Oh really, senator?

Wasn’t it Cruz who told Republicans that if they only went along with him and passed a bill funding the government while eliminating money for ObamaCare, that the other side would blink? If he wasn’t surprised that this happened, that means, contrary to what he had been telling us for months, he knew very well that this was the only possible outcome for the shutdown. If he knew this would happen, why did he keep saying that the GOP would win if it held out? As such, instead of railing at the insincerity and corruption of the establishment, Tea Partiers and other conservatives who rightly wish to stop ObamaCare, should be asking some tough questions about Cruz’s cynicism.

Though Cruz appears to be positioning himself to blame members of his own party — the so-called “surrender caucus” — for the failure of this tactic, let’s have a moment of clarity before the recriminations formally begin.

The shutdown ploy didn’t fail because Republicans failed Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and the rest of the crew that pushed them down this path. The GOP did stick together as he urged them to do through 16 days of a government shutdown as their poll ratings plummeted and the nation grew increasingly uneasy at the spectacle of Washington dysfunction. It failed because, as more sensible conservatives had warned all along, it was a strategy without a path to victory. All the Democrats had to do was to hang tough and wait out the Republicans. Though it took longer than most observers thought it would, that’s what happened. Since even Cruz knows that the GOP can’t countenance anything that even smacks of a defaulting on the national debt, after “fighting the good fight,” House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had to throw in the towel.

The cause for which Cruz and other Tea Partiers labored here was a good one. ObamaCare is a disaster and should be stopped. And if the country hadn’t spent the last two weeks obsessing about the shutdown and the debt ceiling, maybe more of the mainstream media would have been forced to expend their resources covering the fiasco that was its rollout.

Nor are President Obama and the Democrats blameless here. Their refusal to negotiate with Boehner and the Republicans until the latter were forced to surrender almost unconditionally was irresponsible. So, too, were the administration’s efforts to exacerbate the effects of the shutdown.

But the bottom line is that Ted Cruz charted a course for his party that he knew all along would result in a catastrophic failure and never acknowledged that truth or sought to change course. For all of his self righteous anger at the establishment — much of which I would concede is at times entirely appropriate — what he has done is every bit as cynical as anything DC veterans have done.

While the Republican Party will recover from this debacle and live to fight another day on budget issues, entitlement reform, the debt and ObamaCare, it has been materially damaged by the strategy Cruz recklessly advocated. For that he should be held as accountable. For all of his virtues, and they are not inconsiderable, if the GOP is to eventually prevail on these issues in the future one thing is clear: it won’t happen under the leadership of Cruz or anyone like him.

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Can a Deadbeat America Stay on Top?

In the 19th century, individual deadbeats could go to prison and countries that defaulted on their debt could be invaded. To choose only two examples of many, Britain invaded Egypt in 1882 and the U.S. invaded Haiti in 1915 because those countries were not meeting their obligations to international debt-holders.

Today we take a far more relaxed view about owing money. The law makes bankruptcy relatively easy and painless for individuals and corporations–at least less painful than the prospect of debtors’ prison. There is no ethic of living within your means; instead we are now encouraged to run up debt, whether via a home mortgage or a credit card bill, and spend, spend, spend. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—we don’t need to return to the Puritanical, anti-debt attitude of the 19th century. There is nothing wrong with a responsible amount of debt, whether for a family or a country.

But we are carrying our easy-going modern-day ethos a little too far when we run the risk of defaulting on the debt of the United States. Odds are we will see an 11th-hour reprieve from this calamity; at least the markets seem to think so, judging by the run-up of stocks in recent days. But, even if we avert the worst today, it is grossly irresponsible and harmful for lawmakers—meaning principally Tea Party hardliners in the House—to have allowed the deadline to come so close.

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In the 19th century, individual deadbeats could go to prison and countries that defaulted on their debt could be invaded. To choose only two examples of many, Britain invaded Egypt in 1882 and the U.S. invaded Haiti in 1915 because those countries were not meeting their obligations to international debt-holders.

Today we take a far more relaxed view about owing money. The law makes bankruptcy relatively easy and painless for individuals and corporations–at least less painful than the prospect of debtors’ prison. There is no ethic of living within your means; instead we are now encouraged to run up debt, whether via a home mortgage or a credit card bill, and spend, spend, spend. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—we don’t need to return to the Puritanical, anti-debt attitude of the 19th century. There is nothing wrong with a responsible amount of debt, whether for a family or a country.

But we are carrying our easy-going modern-day ethos a little too far when we run the risk of defaulting on the debt of the United States. Odds are we will see an 11th-hour reprieve from this calamity; at least the markets seem to think so, judging by the run-up of stocks in recent days. But, even if we avert the worst today, it is grossly irresponsible and harmful for lawmakers—meaning principally Tea Party hardliners in the House—to have allowed the deadline to come so close.

Thankfully the U.S. armed forces are still strong enough—for the time being anyway—to prevent the Chinese military from showing up on our shores to collect the trillions we owe them. (But for how much longer? Given the increases in Chinese military spending and our own across-the-board cuts as a result of the mindless sequestration process, the trends are not favorable when it comes to the shifting balance of power in the Pacific.) But the U.S. cannot rely on military strength alone. Much of our economic strength is underpinned by the fact that the dollar is the favorite reserve currency in the world and by the fact that the U.S. is the favorite destination for foreign investment.

That strong financial position will not be sacrificed overnight. But it will gradually erode if we have too many more perils-of-Pauline flirtations with a sovereign debt default. Already China’s Xinhua news agency is using this occasion to call for the world to “de-Americanize.” Such calls are likely to fall on deaf ears—for now. But we cannot afford to make the world think there is any doubt about America’s ability and willingness to repay its debts. That is a fundamental obligation of government, which, if called into question, will erode our national standing and hence our national security. There is no excuse for the willingness of some lawmakers to drive us so close to the cliff’s edge.

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Credit Ratings and the Debt

Fitch, one of the three credit rating agencies (the other two are Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s), warned yesterday that it has put the federal government on “negative watch” with regard to its credit rating, which Fitch has now at its highest, AAA. Standard and Poor’s lowered the country’s credit rating two years ago, during the last debt ceiling crisis, to AA. Moody’s has not indicated any change in its rating is pending.

It is the job of credit rating agencies to assess the risk in any security, whether governmental or corporate, and reflect that risk in its rating. AAA means that there is virtually no risk of a failure to pay principal or interest. In Fitch’s rating system, the bottom is D, which means that the security is already in default and unlikely to have any worth in the future. Illinois, which has horrendous pension liabilities and a political deadlock on dealing with them, has the lowest rating of any state (A-, with a negative outlook, on Fitch). That’s still investment grade, but a full six notches below the top rating.

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Fitch, one of the three credit rating agencies (the other two are Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s), warned yesterday that it has put the federal government on “negative watch” with regard to its credit rating, which Fitch has now at its highest, AAA. Standard and Poor’s lowered the country’s credit rating two years ago, during the last debt ceiling crisis, to AA. Moody’s has not indicated any change in its rating is pending.

It is the job of credit rating agencies to assess the risk in any security, whether governmental or corporate, and reflect that risk in its rating. AAA means that there is virtually no risk of a failure to pay principal or interest. In Fitch’s rating system, the bottom is D, which means that the security is already in default and unlikely to have any worth in the future. Illinois, which has horrendous pension liabilities and a political deadlock on dealing with them, has the lowest rating of any state (A-, with a negative outlook, on Fitch). That’s still investment grade, but a full six notches below the top rating.

The agencies don’t always get it right, of course. They all completely failed to see the risk in mortgage-backed securities and rated them AAA. When the housing bubble collapsed, many of the subprime mortgages lurched into foreclosure. That made the bonds they (along with non-subprime mortgages) collateralized unsellable because no one knew the value of the underlying assets. Unsellable securities are, by economic definition, worthless. Unfortunately, many of the too-big-to-fail banks had loaded up on these mortgage-backed securities because of their AAA ratings and relatively good yields. When the market in those bonds cratered during the crisis, some of those banks became technically insolvent. The Treasury had to ride to the rescue with TARP money lest the entire United States banking system collapse. (Once the dust settled, and the market for mortgage-backed securities came back to life, the banks were able to pay back the TARP money.)

What would a cut in the government’s credit rating mean? Principally, it would be a huge political embarrassment. The United States is, by far, the richest country the world has ever known. The federal government’s annual income from taxes and fees ($2.7 trillion in 2013) exceeds the total GDP of all but five countries. So to have its credit rating knocked down would be an embarrassment perhaps on a par with Warren Buffett having his American Express card declined at a restaurant.

More significant, credit ratings determine relative interest rates. One of the iron laws of economics is that risk and reward must balance (at least in the long term). The greater the risk, the greater the reward, in terms of interest income, must be to get buyers to hold your paper. Since the United States owes $17 trillion, a mere one-percentage point increase in interest costs would add $170 billion to the cost of servicing the debt. (About one-third of the debt turns over every year.) With interest rates likely to begin to creep up as the Fed slowly cuts back on its stimulus, the percentage of federal revenues that have to be used for debt service will rise anyway. Any significant addition to that burden would seriously impact federal spending in other areas.

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Is the Shutdown Caucus Happy Now?

Yesterday’s farcical failure of House Speaker John Boehner to get enough members of his own party to commit to supporting his compromise measure to reopen the government and extend the debt ceiling told us all we needed to know about just how dysfunctional the Republican caucus has become. As I noted yesterday, Boehner’s measure was an acceptance of reality. The GOP has lost the shutdown fight and the only thing that is yet to be determined is the terms of surrender. Boehner tried to give his party a slightly larger fig leaf than the Senate Republicans were able to coax out of Harry Reid. But conservative hardliners were having none of it. Even at this late date and with the debt-ceiling deadline hanging over them, they wouldn’t go along with Boehner forcing him to withdraw his proposal and leaving the field to a Senate bill. That will likely mean that in order to avoid even the theoretical danger of default, Boehner may have to simply let the Senate bill onto the House floor for a vote where it will pass on the strength of Democratic votes along with a minority of Republicans.

In other words, after weeks of suffering the opprobrium of the mainstream media as well as increasing the distrust felt by many Americans for their party, what exactly did the GOP accomplish via the shutdown tactic?

Did trying a government shutdown defund ObamaCare? No. Did it force President Obama to make a single tangible concession to Republicans or give way on something that would help them fight the battle against growing deficits and debt or the ObamaCare fiasco further down the line? No. Did it weaken and further divide the Republican Party? Yes.

That leaves us with one more question: Are those that egged Boehner on to force a shutdown fight happy with these results?

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Yesterday’s farcical failure of House Speaker John Boehner to get enough members of his own party to commit to supporting his compromise measure to reopen the government and extend the debt ceiling told us all we needed to know about just how dysfunctional the Republican caucus has become. As I noted yesterday, Boehner’s measure was an acceptance of reality. The GOP has lost the shutdown fight and the only thing that is yet to be determined is the terms of surrender. Boehner tried to give his party a slightly larger fig leaf than the Senate Republicans were able to coax out of Harry Reid. But conservative hardliners were having none of it. Even at this late date and with the debt-ceiling deadline hanging over them, they wouldn’t go along with Boehner forcing him to withdraw his proposal and leaving the field to a Senate bill. That will likely mean that in order to avoid even the theoretical danger of default, Boehner may have to simply let the Senate bill onto the House floor for a vote where it will pass on the strength of Democratic votes along with a minority of Republicans.

In other words, after weeks of suffering the opprobrium of the mainstream media as well as increasing the distrust felt by many Americans for their party, what exactly did the GOP accomplish via the shutdown tactic?

Did trying a government shutdown defund ObamaCare? No. Did it force President Obama to make a single tangible concession to Republicans or give way on something that would help them fight the battle against growing deficits and debt or the ObamaCare fiasco further down the line? No. Did it weaken and further divide the Republican Party? Yes.

That leaves us with one more question: Are those that egged Boehner on to force a shutdown fight happy with these results?

It still remains to be seen whether Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee will fall on their swords and try to delay or prevent the Senate bill re-opening the government from passing. It is also possible that Speaker Boehner may try one more last, likely futile, parliamentary trick to cook up a deal that will be marginally more favorable to conservative interests. But the odds are, by the end of the week, we’ll be talking about Congress having to clean up the rubble left behind by the brutal battle these two and their House Tea Party friends fomented.

It’s also likely that they will take no responsibility for this crushing defeat. If anything, we can expect that they will blame their failure to come up with a strategy that had a chance of success or even an endgame that would allow their party a dignified path of retreat, on more reasonable Republicans — wrongly called RINOs by some Tea Partiers — who looked on in horror as they goaded Boehner to take the GOP over the cliff. But let’s make it clear that what is happening now isn’t the fault of those who said all along that this wouldn’t work. It’s the responsibility of a faction that simply wasn’t thinking straight about the best way to advance their goals and wound up doing more damage to the conservative movement than the Democrats could have ever done without their help.

As bad as it looks now, having wasted the country’s time in this manner won’t mean the end of the Republican Party. Like any party that doesn’t control the White House, it will remain divided and prey to factional disputes. But it will survive to fight another day and, with luck, will still be in position to hold onto the House and maybe even challenge the Democrats for control of the Senate next year. Perhaps once the shutdown is over, the nation will turn its full attention to the debacle of the ObamaCare rollout, which is where it should have been all along.

But neither should we forget who were the architects of defeat this week. John Boehner may be the poor soul who will have to preside over the formal surrender to the Democrats who will rightly crow about how they stood up to the Tea Party and defended the president’s signature health care legislation. Cruz and Lee and all those House members who thought this was a good idea owe their party and the country a better explanation than the one we’re likely to hear. And if either ever seeks the leadership of the party in 2016, they should be called to account for what they’ve done.

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