Judging by what the media’s been saying the last few weeks, the Republican Party is about to go over the cliff with another attempt to shut down the government. That belief is the foundation of the “Eve of Destruction” stories about the GOP’s future we’ve been reading lately and why liberals like Chris Matthews are now operating under the assumption that Rand Paul and his libertarians will take complete control of the party by 2016, if not sooner. That works fine for both Paul and the liberals who assume, not without reason, that if that’s the way everything plays out, Democrats will not only be in position for a blowout in the next presidential election but in great shape to do better than expected in the 2014 midterms. But there’s one problem with this rosy scenario: it’s not happening.
Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Marco Rubio may be all over the media still preaching to the choir about how Republicans who won’t threaten to shut down the government if ObamaCare isn’t defunded aren’t sincerely against the president’s signature health care plan. Former senator Jim DeMint may have mobilized the resources of the Heritage Foundation that he now heads to back this play and is speaking at town hall meetings to reinforce that message. But the real news here is that most of the GOP still wants nothing to do with a shutdown. So long as House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and a host of other genuine conservative leaders like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker are making it clear they oppose a suicidal charge on ObamaCare, there is virtually no likelihood of it coming to pass. Though House backbenchers and Senate lone wolves like Cruz may create some drama over the plan to take the country to the brink this fall, the chances of them actually doing so are slim to none. Most Republicans may sympathize with the goals of the Tea Party, but they aren’t going to be held hostage by it.
The foolishness of a tactic whose success is predicated on the willingness of Democrats and President Obama to blink and sacrifice their one real achievement of the past five years just because conservatives play tough has been thoroughly debunked a number of times here. But I understand how attractive such an attempt might seem to conservatives who are frustrated with the failure of Republicans to derail ObamaCare. But once Obama was reelected and Democrats maintained control of the Senate last year, any notion of a legislative rebellion that would capitalize on the House’s power of the purse became unrealistic. Democrats would love to see the GOP shut down the government over this issue since it would change the conversation from the health care plan’s manifest failures to the obstructionism of the Republicans. Standing up for principle is always a laudable goal, but the downside to the country and the party from such an attempt would be considerable.
But while everyone keeps talking about a shutdown as something that will likely occur when Congress resumes work after August, the plain fact of the matter is that Cruz and company simply don’t have the votes to make it happen. They will scream bloody murder over this fact and perhaps DeMint will stick to his belief that any Republicans who won’t go along should be replaced. But at some point in the next few weeks they are going to have to acknowledge that few in the party’s leadership or its rank and file on the Hill are ready to join this forlorn hope.
This is a significant development since it indicates that for all the smoke and thunder emanating from Tea Party and libertarian loyalists this summer, they don’t speak for a majority, let alone all, of the Republican Party. This doesn’t mean that most in the GOP are sellouts or that dread word, moderates. What it shows is that while it is a conservative party, it is also one that hasn’t lost its mind. Though the failure to go down in flames may disappoint many on the right, that is something that should console conservatives who wonder about the nation’s future and worry Democrats.