In the hours after the government shutdown kicked in, the talking heads in the media keep asking where the “middle ground” will be found to work through this impasse.
When will cooler heads prevail? the talking heads lament. What is the Republican endgame, and when will the Tea Party 'crazies' realize they are playing a losing hand?
Those questions completely miss the point. There is no middle ground. There is no negotiated compromise to be found. There are no “cooler heads” in the Tea Party caucus, and few (if any) with any clout left in the Republican party.
The far right-wingers of the Republican Party are calling the plays now, and they are making a desperate goal-line stand against what they perceive as an out-of-control entitlement state.
They believe their dreaded foe Obamacare is the embodiment of that entitlement state. And they will not let it go into effect and take root at any cost.
The End Game
If you are wondering what the Republicans’ endgame is, this is it:
- Let the stink of the shutdown – and soon after, the stink of a default – get tied to Obamacare and Obama himself.
- Pressure Democrats to agree to delay implementation of the ACA until 2015. Then run their 2014 midterm campaigns squarely against Obamacare. “Elect us and we will repeal it” will once again be their mantra. The hope is to pick up at least 5 Senate seats and then control two houses of Congress.
- Use their newly elected Senate muscle during the lame duck session to pass a repeal bill and pressure Obama to sign it under yet more shutdown and default threats like the one they are leveraging today.
- Even if the first three goals can't be achieved, hamstring Obamacare by forcing a delay of the individual mandate. Without young, healthy people joining the exchanges, the costs of the exchange plans will zoom higher, causing more people to opt out, and the entire program will crash and burn.
Weathering the Fallout
Republicans aren’t stupid. They realize that the short-term fallout of the shutdown and the ensuing default will be against them. But they are betting that over time, and with the right spin, that public opinion will shift and the anger over dysfunctional government will be split equally between Republicans and Democrats.
Then, Tea Party acolytes reason, they can shift public opinion against an already weakened president and win the war even while losing a few battles along the way.
They aren’t concerned that national parks are closed and federal employees are furloughed or going without pay. They like that! Remember, these are the people who have caused the layoffs of millions of federal and state workers so far. They don’t care about increasing unemployment. They don’t care about hurting the economy in the short term. They don’t even care if there’s another recession.
They hate government, hate government programs, and hate government workers.
They believe in their bones that this is their time, they are on the right side of history, and they are, to quote The Blues Brothers movie, “on a mission from God.”
To them, this is the government’s apocalypse, and their surging popularity in their gerrymandered districts is the rapture. They are zealots, and they embrace the fight.
So if you think cooler heads are going to prevail in days or a week, guess again. These people aren’t making it up as they go along. They came in with a battle plan, and they are fighting to win.
Boehner v. Obama, mano a mano
Which means this impasse will not end when cooler heads prevail, or when the Tea Party realizes it is beaten.
The only way this impasse will end is when either John Boehner or Barack Obama caves. It’s that simple.
Boehner either has to buck the Tea Party and put a clean spending bill up for a House vote (and cripple his Speakership), or Obama has to negotiate the Affordable Care Act away (and cripple his presidency).
The outcome of that standoff could determine the future of healthcare reform, Social Security, Medicare, Welfare and unemployment assistance.
That is the Republican end game. And as of now, their game plan is working exactly as planned.