Home/Daniel Larison/The GOP’s Absurd Predicament

The GOP’s Absurd Predicament

Noam Scheiber argues that a government shutdown will be much worse politically for the GOP than in 1995-96:

Second, Americans become deeply suspicious when one party tries to use a debate over an urgent piece of legislation (funding to avoid a shutdown in this case, an extension of an expiring tax cut back in 2011) as an opportunity to win unrelated concessions. In the same way that Republicans tipped their hand when they insisted on upending the entire unemployment insurance system as the price of allowing the payroll tax cut and merely extending unemployment benefits, they have tipped their hand this time by insisting on defunding Obamacare as the price of keeping the government open. (That’s why opposition to defunding Obamacare rises from 44-38 to 59-19 when it’s tied to a shutdown threat.)

It seems clear that Republicans in Congress will suffer more political damage from a shutdown, because more of them are seen as willing to accept the shutdown in an attempt to achieve a separate legislative goal. Some Republicans in Congress feel compelled to use such tactics because they do not have the power to repeal the ACA outright, and the reason they don’t have that power is that the public hasn’t been willing to trust them with unified control of the government since the debacles of the Bush era. Republicans won’t be returned to power as long as most Americans have the nagging sense that they will wreck things again once they have control, and this latest display does nothing to make that feeling go away.

What makes the party’s current position so absurd is that the attempt to use the threat of a shutdown to extract concessions on the ACA serves only to remind most Americans why they don’t want the party to control more of the government than it does. At best, the GOP is proving itself unready to govern, and that makes it considerably less likely that voters are going to trust the party with control of the Senate or the White House. That means many more years of picking fights that the party can’t win.

Sen. Tom Coburn has explained the futility of the latest showdown:

“The only time you shut down the government is when you shut it down and refuse to open it until you accomplish what you want. But we’ll fold like hotcakes,” Coburn told reporters.

Coburn is by far one of the most conservative members of the Senate, so it should tell his colleagues something that he thinks the tactic of linking the defunding of the ACA to the continuing resolution is folly. More to the point, he is stating what everyone already knows or ought to know, which is that this tactic can’t possibly succeed. Either the GOP will “fold” quickly as Coburn predicts, or it will hold out for a longer period of time, but under no circumstances can it prevail.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

leave a comment

Latest Articles