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The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

How Do You ‘Win’ an Unpopular Shutdown Fight?



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As mentioned in the Jolt, I’ll be on The Lead with Jake Tapper later today. Undoubtedly, we’ll end up discussing the state of negotiations to end the government shutdown.

Obviously circumstances could change at any time, but it seems neither side has a really good sense of what the other is thinking right now.

I’m sure President Obama thought that the GOP would take a big hit from the shutdown, and that would increase pressure on them to fold and pass a clean CR. The poll numbers say they’re getting more of the blame, but there’s not that big a split, and the numbers are pretty much what you would expect. Republicans blame the Democrats more, Democrats blame the Republicans more, and independents mostly say ”a pox on both your houses.” (Note the CBS poll didn’t offer “both” as an option and it was still the volunteered choice of 17 percent of the public and 24 percent of independents.) I suspect that as this drags on, the “pox on both your houses” sentiment will expand and grow.

Obama, Reid, and their team probably think that within another day, enough House Republicans will fold. And perhaps they will. But they made the same calculation yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that. In fact, the best window for a deal was probably right before the shutdown. Boehner might have concluded accepting some minuscule face-saving concession — say, reducing the 2.3 percent medical-device-manufacturer tax to 2 percent or something — would be enough to justify taking a deal that avoids the shutdown.

Now, for Republicans, the poll-support hit is already priced in, and having taken the hit, they might as well hold out until they get some more substantial concession — after all, there’s no point in settling for the same deal they could have reached a week ago.

The GOP’s hold-out crowd also assumes that at some point, the consequences of the shutdown will be severe enough that Obama will need to make concessions and reach a deal. Silly maneuvers like the National Park Service’s showdown with the World War Two Honor Flights, or Harry Reid’s inane gaffe on children with cancer, strengthen that perception.

But Obama’s still convinced that he’s “winning” this fight (he’s wrong; as the shutdown drags on, there are no winners) and that if he takes a deal — after weeks of insisting that he won’t negotiate, and the opposition is hostage-takers, guys with bombs strapped to their chest, etc. — then his base, already displeased by the NSA and Syria stuff, will be livid.

It’s an awful mess, and over time, it’s going to appear more and more silly to suggest that either party or a particular leader could be seen as “winning” this. The more this drags on, the more the entire leadership on both sides — Obama, Reid, Boehner, Pelosi, McConnell — takes a hit as the public regards them as incapable of compromising and negotiating when it mattered most.

As with nuclear war in WarGames, “the only way to win is not to play.”


Tags: Barack Obama , Government Shutdown , John Boehner , Harry Reid


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