The two most important bargaining weapons Republicans had in the recent budget negotiations were the threat of a government shutdown (more precisely, uncertainty over whether Republicans would go all the way to a shutdown) and voter opinion.
Republicans made an important tactical and strategic mistake by taking the threat of a shutdown off the table before negotiations even began. Republicans, spooked by the Democratic/media narrative of the 1995 shutdown, proclaimed loudly, early, and often that they wouldn’t shut down the government over the CR. No way, no how.
Now, perhaps Republicans calculated that Katie Couric’s opprobrium would cause voters to punish Republicans for a shutdown. Not an unreasonable calculation. But Republicans shouldn’t be surprised that their capitulation on the CR will have long-term implications. Now that Democrats have seen Republicans cave once, Democrats are even more likely to call Republicans’ bluff in future budget negotiations. President Obama’s speech on Wednesday is partial proof of that.
And that calculus may not change appreciably even if Republicans gain the Senate and the White House. Republicans have diminished the element of uncertainty by showing unequivocally that they’ve internalized the 1995 shutdown narrative.
Every negotiator needs to hold a card that causes doubt in the mind of his adversary. He needn’t play the card to win.
The Republicans’ mistake was not so much that they refused to shut down the government in order to secure a better deal. It was that they announced such refusal months in advance.