The Wall Street Journal interviews Michael Needham, the president of Heritage Action and one of the architects of the GOP’s failed shutdown strategy. Needham thinks Republicans are winning:
We just spent the last three months talking about nothing else but ObamaCare. It has been on the front page of every newspaper. The polls show ObamaCare’s more unpopular than ever.
That might sound impressive if it were true. In September, Washington was preoccupied with two things: Syria and the possibility of a shutdown. In October, the shutdown and fear of default have dominated the coverage in spite of the ACA’s abysmal first two weeks. Contrary to what Needham claims, the latest polling shows that the ACA is becoming slightly more popular than it was earlier this year. That may not last, but if Needham wants us to judge the success of his effort by this measure it’s obvious that it has been a total flop.
Needham seems to see the shutdown partly as an attention-getting exercise:
I think people who don’t follow politics as closely as you and I do, which is most normal people, only pay attention when something major’s going on. Why is there a government shutdown going on? Because the Republican Party wants to get rid of ObamaCare.
Yes, it’s true that this is the reason for the shutdown, and that also happens to be the reason why the party is now viewed much less favorably than it was last month. As more people have paid closer attention, the Republicans have been losing the public’s support because most people don’t like what they’re seeing. More people are paying attention to Republican opposition to the law, but the entire episode has done an enormous service to supporters of the law by providing a huge distraction from the failings of the law.
When presented with evidence that the GOP has been hurt politically by the failed defunding effort, Needham sidesteps the issue:
Mr. Needham blames the GOP for not focusing enough on ObamaCare, adding that “there is nothing in my mission statement that says anything about the Republican Party. Our mission is to advance the conservative agenda. We are nonpartisan and we really mean it.”
The point seems to be lost on Needham that “the conservative agenda” isn’t being advanced by any of this, either. If it were realistic that any of this could lead to a significant conservative policy victory, that could be worth some political setbacks for the party, but conservatives are going to emerge from this fight with no policy gains and considerable political damage. Conservatives certainly shouldn’t sacrifice their policy goals for the sake of partisan advantage, but pursuing a strategy that undermines both is senseless.
The trouble with all of this is that Needham, like Cruz, is heedless of the consequences of the actions that he has been pushing Republicans to take, and he won’t acknowledge the failure of an effort when the evidence of failure is undeniable. It is reminiscent of oblivious Bush administration officials that kept insisting that there was no insurgency in Iraq when there clearly was. Rather than make an embarrassing admission that they had badly misjudged the situation and were unreasonably optimistic from the beginning, they kept stubbornly saying that they would “stay the course” even though that guaranteed that things would become much worse.