Election and polling analyst Harry Enten has been writing some excellent blog posts for The Guardian. This one is on the difference between today’s polling on government shutdowns and the polling on the confrontation between Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton in 1995-96. Enten points out that in 1995-96 many more voters said they would blame congressional Republicans than Democratic presidents; today the numbers are about equal. My interpretation: Voters are quietly picking up on the fact that Barack Obama doesn’t do policy very well, certainly not nearly as well as Clinton did.
Obama also doesn’t do communications as well as Clinton did. On the other side, no Republican is likely to be as self-destructive as Newt Gingrich was in the aftermath of the 1995-6 shutdown. Additionally, Americans were told that the sequestration cuts would bring the sky down on our heads. That didn’t happen. The Chicken Little Democrats now predicting that at shutdown would bring the sky down on us have beclowned themselves all year on spending.
It’s also worth remembering that the 1995-6 shutdown was not the disaster that the media have made it out to be ever since. Republicans held both sides of Congress going into that shutdown, and maintained their hold on both houses afterward. They picked up a pair of seats in the Senate. Clinton was re-elected, mainly because the economy was strong, the Republicans had nominated the moderate Bob Dole who was vastly older and less energetic than Clinton, and Clinton had been forced to sign the 1996 welfare reform law, which moved him closer to the center. Had Clinton not signed that conservative reform, he may have lost the election.
Obama will not move to the center. He is not even on the ballot. He will stay on the left and defend his unpopular law. The Republicans led by Sen. Ted Cruz who are trying to stop this law have a majority of the American people agreeing with their goal, if not their current tactic.
Stopping Obamacare is a winnable fight, and Cruz is right to say that stopping Obamacare is important enough to hold everything else up to accomplish that. He probably won’t succeed in killing Obamacare by October 1, because the Democrats hold the Senate and the White House. But he is creating an arresting moment and shifting the debate to where it should be.