To understand the dire predicament that Republicans have now gotten themselves into by tying Obamacare to the CR, consider a hypothetical conversation between two Democratic operatives from early September:
D#1: So, how we looking?
D#2: Not good. POTUS was polling in the mid-to upper 40s for August, and that’s the good news. Would you believe that the only time his numbers went up was when he went on vacation? Otherwise his numbers are on a downward trajectory. We are looking at the low 40s in some polls. He’s approaching Bush levels for crying out loud. It’s been a steady decay since January. And this Syria stuff was just a disaster. He just looks weak. On subject breakouts, the numbers are worse. Economy, deficit – it looks bleak.
D#1: Well, where ever we are, it’s a better place than where the GOP is.
D#2: Yeah, 10 point edge for us in congressional favorability. But you know that number is less than meets the eye. Voters hate Congress but love their congressman. And those damn GOP redistricting plans have left us with only a handful of possible opportunities to pick up House seats - and that’s assuming we have the wind at our backs.
D#1: What about the Senate?
D#2: 50-50 right now I’d say, but that’s really fluid and time is not our friend. We have to defend 21 seats. Retirements, particularly in red states, haven’t helped. Those are going to be competitive. And those red state seats where incumbents are running – Alaska, North Carolina, Louisiana and Arkansas in particular- those are going to require a full court press to defend.
Still, the GOP needs to net six seats to take control, which is no small feat. Our best hope is for a lot of Tea Party primary challenges. Republican voters simply threw away their chances for a Senate majority in ’10 and ’12 by backing un-electable Tea Party candidates. There’s no reason to believe that won’t happen again. For every decent candidate there’s a Todd Akin or Sharon Angle looking to make a name for themselves, and enough deep pocketed conservatives to make it possible.
D#1: So, where’s the momentum?
D#2: it’s with them, at least for now.
First, we have no accomplishments to show for eight months of effort.
Gun control was a mistake. We knew going in that the votes were against us, despite the public uproar. We thought the GOP would at least take a hit for obstruction, but that doesn’t seem to be materializing as we’d hoped. Those successful state recalls in Colorado were a wake up call for anyone who thought gun control was a slam dunk for our side. We have risk there, particularly in red states. And guns diluted our message on immigration and complicated any hope of passage. Now guns and immigration are both dead. And there’s no hope of a grand bargain on the debt, taxes or entitlements that might actually fix something. The only accomplishment since January has been the Sequester, and that’s something we need to repeal, not promote.
D#1: So, nothing new to sell?
D#2; Right. That leaves our base restive and listless – what did they do all that work in ’12 for if nothing has happened for progressive priorities. How are we going to get these people out to vote in midterms if we haven’t delivered on anything? Worse, that leaves us with what we have on the plate, and none of that is good.
The White House can say all it wants about the strength of the economic recovery, but Americans are just not feeling it. Unemployment is chronically high, growth is anemic. More Americans are on food stamps than are actually working. Yet Wall Street is making out like bandits on Bernanke’s easing, and every time he threatens to scale it back, the market tanks and interest rates spike, hurting the housing industry and average Americans.
And you know, between me and you, Obamacare is just a disaster. The exchanges aren’t ready. The real-life price points are significantly different that we imagined. It’s going to be way more expensive for the very people we were hoping to reach. The middle class, and younger Americans are just going to get hosed, at least initially.
Businesses are laying off workers, or offering less than 30 hours to keep under the Obamacare minimums. That’s really distorting the job market. Have you seen the growth in part-time work in the jobs report? And between all the damn exceptions for interest groups and POTUS just waiving statutory provisions arbitrarily, its hard to say that the law is fair and applies equally to everyone. I mean, he even waived the rules that Obamacare apply to Congress. Like that’s going to make voters happy. And the total cost of the program blows away the original 10-year estimate, adding to the deficit, and now they say that even after implementation, half of the 50 million uninsured still won’t have insurance. It’s like a perfect storm of horrendous news.
Republicans are going to have a field day with this. And you know, it kills me – they don’t have to do a thing. Just sit back and watch, like a train wreck in slow motion. Can you imagine? 13 straight months, every day in the 24/7 news cycle, how Obamacare is ruining medicine, the economy the budget and lives? It’s got “disaster” written all over it. Independents hate the law and are deserting us in droves. Even a strong plurality of Democrats are against it. The GOP has a real chance to nationalize the midterms and make really serious gains by just running against Obamacare- even make inroads into “lean Democrat” districts in the House, and maybe pick off some marginally safer Democrats in the Senate.
You want to think about what life is like with more Ted Cruz’ in the Senate and new members in the “anarchist caucus” in the House? Give’s me chills.
D#1: Speaking of which, what about Cruz and this whole defund Obamacare with the CR and debt ceiling?
D#2: Lunatic fringe blowing off steam. Showing off for the folks back home. Boehner and McConnell have been around the block. Both were here for the ’95 shutdown and the ’11 debt ceiling crisis. They can both read polls. The American people don’t like Obamacare, but they like the idea of shutting down the government or blowing the debt limit even less. I mean, letting Obamacare go into effect is electoral gold for the GOP. They won’t mess with that.
D#1: Yeah, I suppose. But just imagine for a second if they did.
D#2: It’d be a game changer, that’s for sure. First, there’s absolutely no way for them to win. Reid has the votes and the rules on his side. But even if there was a mass mutiny in the Senate, POTUS has the veto. No way the GOP wins. Obamacare isn’t real to voters yet, but a government shutdown would be real. People choose the thing they know every time. It just kills the GOP position.
In between, the President gets to go around the country, lambasting the GOP for obstructionism – putting ideology over the welfare of the country. Completely rehabilitates his image. Protector of the middle class, fighting for the little guy. The press releases and stories write themselves. “GOP shuts down government to keep poor from receiving health care.” It would be like shooting fish in a barrel.
D#1: And the debt limit?
D#2: Maybe the GOP shuts the government down for a day or two to make a point, but even they aren’t stupid enough to threaten the debt limit. I mean, there’d be genuine havoc. No one knows what that would look like in real life, but at a minimum it would panic Wall Street and roil international markets. Confidence is shaky still. Who knows what the unintended knock on consequences would be. Once we go down that road, it would be impossible to put the genie back in the bottle – just like Lehman.
The GOP would be responsible for intentionally triggering an international economic calamity. It would wreck their image and ruin their brand. Took Republicans 20 years to win back the White House after the Great Depression. And you can make a case that they didn’t intentionally trigger the crash of ’29. This time would be entirely different. It might not be survivable. GOP infighting would be as bad as public disgust with the party.
D#1: And the midterms then?
D#2: Oh, we are talking 1974 all over again, maybe better. People will be angry and they will need to take it out on someone. They were furious at Nixon and took it out on the GOP back in `74. Could be worse this time. President could get his filibuster-proof majority back in the Senate and give Nancy Pelosi her chair back in the House. And this time, the GOP wouldn’t even be a credible opposition party anymore. We could finally finish the agenda that Obama came to Washington to implement, and tee up Hillary to lock in the gains for decades to come. Can you imagine? A single payer system in her first term? It would be as defining an event as 1932 or 1965. We could run the table on everything from climate change to taxes to immigration. Broken field running.
D#1: But Republicans aren’t that stupid, are they?