Was it really less than four years ago that the mainstream media and its Democratic allies rose up as one to denounce Republicans for shutting down the government? When House Republicans refused to pass routine legislation funding the government in the fall of 2013, liberals were furious at the idea that a political party would be willing to risk the delivery of government services and lay off civil servants just to make a point about an issue they regarded as vital to the nation’s future. From President Obama on down, Democrats denounced the GOP strategy of brinksmanship and admonished congressional Republicans for failing to “do their job.”
In that case, “doing their job” did not mean representing the views of the constituents who voted them into office to oppose Obamacare, but waving the white flag and meekly passing the measures that would allow the state leviathan to continue functioning. In the end, that’s just what happened in 2013, as it has happened most other times Republicans threatened shutdowns while liberals sagely shook their heads at the ideologues who had supposedly steered the GOP toward disaster.
If you thought the same liberal organs that denounced conservative groups for backing a shutdown when Barack Obama was in the White House would line up to scold Schumer and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi now that the shoe is on the other foot, however, you were mistaken. Democrats’ threats have been met either with silence or approval in the media, which suddenly loves the same tactic the Obama White House actually compared to terrorism.
Let’s not waste much time on Schumer’s cynical attempt to claim there’s a difference between what he’s planning to do and the Republican effort in the fall of 2013. He claims that all he wants is to pass a “clean” budget bill by the April 28 deadline, and blames the GOP for larding the bill with provisions about the wall and Planned Parenthood. His argument is a fallacy, of course: All budgets are laundry lists of items; there is no such thing as one in which there aren’t some items added or omitted that could provoke controversy.
Though coverage of that shutdown crisis always depicted Republicans as the extremists holding the government hostage, President Obama and the Democrats were no less extreme in their insistence on getting their way on Obamacare. If, as Schumer now insists, the party of government is the one that is supposed to compromise in order to keep the government funded, then it was Obama that should have blinked in 2013, and again in 2015 when another shutdown was averted.
Obama never wavered because he knew the liberal media would always depict his opponents as unreasonable. Schumer is just as confident that Democrats will get the same support now, even though their stand is identical to the one the liberal chattering class denounced as a form of political terrorism back then.
If Democrats want to shut the government down, the White House should let them, and make them own the consequences.
Republicans can’t be surprised by any of this. On issues such as the sanctity of the filibuster or whether the Senate should allow a president of a different party to appoint a Supreme Court justice in his last year, liberals have flip-flopped repeatedly depending on what best serves their immediate political purposes. The only real difference between liberals and conservatives seems to be that the former always insist on pretending to have the moral high ground, even when there is none to be found.
But there is another lesson to be learned here and Republicans must hope Trump already knows it.
Republicans lost shutdown fights against Obama and the Left because most of them simply didn’t believe in a tactic that they thought, not without reason, to be inherently illegitimate. Good citizens at heart, even some who were elected to be Tea Party revolutionaries tasked with changing a broken system found themselves unhappy letting the machine collapse to make a point. There was never any doubt that they would eventually fold, rather than continuing to brave the storm of hostility orchestrated by the White House and its media allies.
President Trump’s shortcomings as a leader are apparent every time he tweets something patently false. But the possibility of a showdown does bring to the fore one of his strengths: It is difficult to imagine him quaking at the prospect of bad press or backing down in a negotiation because he was afraid to walk away.
This time, the GOP should not be the party that fears blame and is unwilling to stand on principle. If Democrats want to shut the government down, the White House should let them, and make them own the consequences. Rather than being the victims of media bias, conservatives should look forward to an opportunity to expose the mainstream press as an arm of the Democrats. If Schumer thinks he can beat Trump in a standoff the way Obama always beat Boehner, let him try.
— Jonathan S. Tobin is the opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributor to National Review Online. Follow him on Twitter @jonathans_tobin.