As we begin Day 4 of the by-now-embarrassing government shutdown, Republicans are desperately searching for a way out.
They have no exit strategy. The Democrats are determined not to save them. And it is now abundantly clear that the shutdown, which has to end eventually, can’t end well.
The concept was a disaster for Republicans from the start, but the thing really began to unravel on Thursday. There was the I-don’t-know-what-we-want quote from an obscure Indiana congressman that went viral. There was the intentionally leaked pledge by Speaker John Boehner to Republican moderates that whatever else went wrong, he wouldn’t let the House Tea Party caucus send the nation into default.
And there was the driver who apparently tried to ram her car through a White House security checkpoint and was shot and killed by Capitol police, whose officers are deemed essential workers, but not so essential that they would get paid before the government reopens.
It was a powerful image — these government officers protecting the people who closed down the government for no good reason — of the shutdown theater at its most absurd.
You’d think by this point the people who made this disaster possible would be embarrassed. You’d think it, but I’m guessing they’re not. If you trust what the House suicide caucus is actually saying, many of them still think they’re winning. But everyone else involved must be embarrassed, starting with Boehner, who allowed all this to happen.
It wasn’t as if they weren’t warned. Everyone except Ted Cruz, the freshman senator who convinced his House allies to force the shutdown, knew it would never work. I mean, everyone. They were told by all the Republican wise men — the Wills and the Roves and the McCains — that it wouldn’t work. But now that it’s finally clear that Barack Obama is not giving in on Obamacare and that he was never going to give in on Obamacare, no one seems to know what to do about it.
The Democrats won’t cave for at least two reasons. One, they’re absolutely right not to cave. Two, they’re polling well.
The Republicans can’t figure out how to cave for at least one reason. They’d look like losers. Thus the quote from Rep. Marlin Stutzman to the Washington Examiner: “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”
The “disrespected” part of the quote is bad enough. Is that the term of art from Stutzman’s “gang” of congressmen these days? But the admission that Republicans must get something from the fiasco — no matter what it is — put the lie to the notion that the shutdown was ever anything more than a playground fight, started by people not serious enough to understand the consequences.
They wanted to do something — they didn’t care what — about Obamacare. Why? Presumably because it’s called Obamacare and because it’s Obama’s signature achievement. I mean, it couldn’t be that they wanted to shut down the government so millions of people couldn’t get access to better health care, could it? It couldn’t be that they wanted to close it down to make sure insurance companies could still deny access to people with pre-existing conditions. Could it?
Where does that leave Boehner? He did understand the consequences. He didn’t want the shutdown. But in a great New Yorker piece, author George Packer explains the difference between this shutdown and the last one led by Newt Gingrich. Gingrich was a revolutionary who, for better or worse, built a Republican House majority. Boehner is a party hack who can’t control a relatively small group of House crazies.
Back in the ’90s, Gingrich kept in constant contact with Clinton, two strategists working the crowd for the best results. Today, Boehner has nothing to say to Obama because, as he’s shown so many times before, he can’t make a deal on his own. Packer points out that, in this case, “a hack can be more dangerous than a revolutionary.”
Panic is starting to set in among Republican strategists. In 2010, Republicans had a chance to take back the Senate, but they nominated a series of Tea Party extremists who cost them their chance of control. In 2014, it looked like they would get another chance. But now this. In fact, this is giving Democrats hope they might even be able to take back the House.
With this shutdown, the Republicans are just confirming the Democratic argument that the Republicans will do whatever’s possible to stop Obama from succeeding, even if it means putting the country at risk. The only thing dumber would be to allow the country to slip into default on Oct. 17. I’m inclined to believe that couldn’t happen, but I wouldn’t bet my 401(k) on it. On second thought, I guess I am betting it.
This shutdown, after all, was born in absurdity. Here’s the worrying part: What if it ends the same way?