Republicans who fear the effects of a possible government shutdown over Obamacare next month seem, chiefly, to fear that Republicans will be blamed. This blame would translate into losses in next year’s mid-term elections, and if those losses are large enough, they could cost the GOP not only a shot at re-taking the Senate, but could cost control of the House as well. Democrat control of Congress would give Barack Obama nearly unchallenged power for his final two years in office.
Some Republicans fear the consequences of a shutdown so much that they’re smearing Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texan who is leading the defund effort, sniping at him in the media and even sending opposition research on him to Fox News Channel’s Chris Wallace.
Their fears are understandable, but they’re overblown.
The 1995 government shutdown, which pitted then House Speaker Newt Gingrich against President Bill Clinton, is widely seen today as a disaster for the Republican Party. It wasn’t. That shutdown put a major dent in President Clinton’s prestige and popularity, while at the same time most Americans actually experienced no ill effects from it. The sky did not fall.
Gingrich and the GOP probably would have won the shutdown outright if he had not come off as a sore winner a few months later, when he appeared to blame it all on a personal snub by Clinton to him. Sen. Cruz and today’s other GOP leaders can be expected not to make such a bonehead, self-centered mistake. They are not Newt Gingrich.
Barack Obama is not Bill Clinton. Clinton was a superior politician whose instincts were less ideological than Obama’s. Clinton was able to connect with a majority of the American people directly; Obama has remained aloof and distant during his entire term in office. Clinton was seeking re-election and was thus more malleable; Obama is a far more rigid ideologue who is not facing re-election. Obama is more liable to mistake his re-election for a freer hand to combat Republicans now than Clinton was, and overreach. He made that mistake over gun control, and failed spectacularly. Obama has no one around him in the White House or among his congressional allies to rein in his leftist instincts.
Obama is already badly weakened. The gun control defeat and the more recent debacle over Syria have left him unable even to pass a resolution allowing the use of force against a rogue state dictator. In the Obamacare fight, he would be fighting to preserve an unpopular law that is rightly being blamed for destroying jobs and costing millions of Americans their health care coverage. Obama would be fighting to preserve a law that did not enjoy majority support when it was passed and is just as unpopular now. Obama is threatening to shut down the government just to keep that unpopular law on the books. Republicans can win the communications war over Obamacare.
Another reason that a 2013 shutdown may not play out like 1995 is the fact that the Chicken Little caucus has already been discredited. President Obama and the Democrats predicted Armageddon if the sequestration budget cuts, which Obama’s White House proposed in the first place, were enacted. Those cuts kicked in months ago. Has Armageddon happened? No. Most Americans haven’t even noticed any adverse effects at all. The predictions that sequestration would do massive damage have been proven to be hysterical and wrong. Current predictions that a government shutdown would do massive damage are similarly hollow. The economy is already weak, weaker than it was in 1995, but that’s largely because of Obamacare now. Killing that law will help the recovery. Most Americans won’t even notice a government shutdown, unless Obama and the Democrats somehow manipulate events to make the shutdown more painful. But doing that risks exposure for them.
Republicans who fear another shutdown should go back and study what really happened after the 1995 shutdown. The following year was a presidential election year. Bill Clinton was re-elected, but mainly because he ran against a weak GOP opponent who had opposed the 1995 shutdown, and because the shutdown had taught him that he had to move to the right in order to win. He signed the GOP-crafted welfare reform law in 1996. He and Gingrich would go on to craft the nation’s first balanced budget in a generation. And the GOP did not suffer major damage in Congress. They lost a few seats in the House, but actually gained seats in the Senate. Obama will not move to the center no matter what.
Barack Obama isn’t even on the ballot in 2014, but if his antics produce a government shutdown, he will be. Vulnerable Democrats in places like Arizona, Florida and elsewhere will not be embracing him or Obamacare. They will be running away from him and his destructive law.