Monday, October 21, 2013


Over at The New Republic, Tod Lindberg argues that the shutdown narrative we've developed is actually good for the GOP. I know this sounds like a willfully counterintuitive #slatepitch, but I think Lindberg has a point:
... Now, let us stipulate that the government shutdown, however long-lived its repercussions turn out to be, was a Republican political failure on a truly grand scale. Moreover, the agents provocateurs were indeed the Tea Party darlings of the House and Senate....

The Tea Party faction is telling its own version of the same story, namely, that it fought the good fight and lost. But that's another way of saying that the Tea Party does not have the political power within the GOP to prevail. Yes, it can create circumstances in which the government shuts down. But it cannot prevent the government from reopening, let alone an increase in the debt limit when the alternative is default or massive spending cuts, in an effort to get its way....

If the GOP House leadership were truly under the thumb of its most radical members, there would have been no House vote on the Senate compromise bill, the government shutdown would have continued, and the Treasury would today be coping with the worst financial crisis in the history of the Republic. Of course, Democrats and progressives were issuing warnings about precisely that outcome. But it didn't happen. And the reason it didn't is that the GOP, though it includes a radical wing, is not a radical monolith, and its non-radical leadership has the power to defeat the radical wing when push comes to shove. To the extent the GOP’s internal struggle is understood as a contest between conservatives and radicals, in which the conservatives prevail, it will likely help the party regain some of the ground it has been losing at the center.
If that really is what people take away from this crisis, then they'll think -- perhaps even more than they did before -- "Well, the Republicans are a reasonable and responsible bunch, and they'll be just fine as soon as they deal with that pesky lunatic minority." That really might be a good message for the GOP.

Lindberg goes on to say this, however:
If the Tea Party faction managed to pull off in 2016 what it failed to pull off in 2012, namely nominate one of its own for president, we would quickly and rightly be back to the story about the party's capture by its extreme elements. Likewise, if the GOP keeps its House majority in 2014 and elects a speaker actually willing and able to deploy such radical means as forcing a default crisis.
And now we get to the real problem. What has to happen before voters decide the GOP can't be trusted at all? Does the party actually have to push us into default and start a global depression before the "What, me worry?" Alfred E. Neuman voters of the American center say, "Gee, you know, these fellows really have the potential to do some harm"?

And that's the difference between the majority of the U.S. electorate and the voters of Wingnuttia. You edge a millimeter toward a slope that's a hundred miles away, and isn't the slightest bit slippery, and wingnut voters immediately foresee a cataclysmic slide. Propose firearm background checks that aren't even truly universal, and wingnut voters think mass gun confiscation is imminent within weeks. Pass a market-based, Heritage Foundation-developed health care plan, and they think we're living under the Khmer Rouge. Everything Democrats do puts wingnut voters on immediate full alert, mad as hell and refusing to take it anymore, even if it's a baby step toward what they fear, with no further steps desired or planned.

But if Republicans take us nearly to the brink of disaster, a disaster from which we're rescued at the last second, centrist voters still don't develop a sense of alarm about the party.

What, them worry? Well, they should. But they don't.


Knight of Nothing said...

In a related note, Alan Fking Greenspan was on BBC (via NPR) this afternoon saying that when it comes to the economy, he agrees fully with the Tea Party; he disagrees only with their tactics.

I think Charlie Pierce has it exactly right: the reason that the TP is so strong is that there is no Republican establishment.

Victor said...

"But if Republicans take us nearly to the brink of disaster, a disaster from which we're rescued at the last second, centrist voters still don't develop a sense of alarm about the party."

And they won't, until the MSM develops a sense of alarm.

And, while a few of them did after October 1st, they were awful quick to jump reflexively back into "He said-she said" mode, when all was said, threatened, and done!

"He said-she said," is the MSM's default position.

Carol Ann said...

This may be a nice piece of analytical thinking, but I would like to see some polling/research done to see if it actually makes sense. All the blue-sky thinking in the world doesn't turn into reality on the ground.

aimai said...

Juanita Jean has a very, very, moving long ad buy by a formerly Republican judge changing his affiliation and running as a Democrat in Texas. The ad specifically says that he is changing his party affiliation because this Republican party (pictures of the shutdown and the anti obamacare protests) is not a party he can respect. He says what people always say which is "I didn't leave the party, the party left me" but the ad leaves you in now doubt that it is the racism, bigotry, anti poor people, anti obamacare and the shutdown that pushed him out. The ad is really stunning as an indictment of the Texas republican party.

The judge is a hispanic republican judge from Bexar county and you might expect him to trend democratic just for the votes. Sure. But the point is that he is actively repudiating the Republican party point by point. He's not accepting at all that the shutdown was just politics as usual. And that is an argument that he is advancing to the voters.

I think its going to take a while to see how the shutdown shakes out in people's memories and politically. Of course the republicans are going to keep pretending it doesn't matter but I don't know that that is more than whistling past the graveyard.

Ten Bears said...

A Tea Bagger on the ticket will throw the election to the Democrats as McCain/Palin and Willard/Whatshisname.

We are witnessing the end of yhe Republic Party.

No feat.

marieburns said...

Excellent point. Right on cue, as if he might be in the employ of Prince Rebus of the RNC, Obama's former speechwriter Jon Favreau, now penning his bright ideas for the Daily Beast instead of the POTUS, writes a piece titled, "The Tea Party, Not Democrats or Republicans, Is the Problem. Blah blah blah." Favreau doesn't see red states & blue states; he sees the United States of America. Rah rah rah.

Marie Burns

John Taylor said...

The Tea Party wants nothing less than the destruction of the federal government. The mainstream GOP have been working towards the same end, it's only tactics they disagree on.

White Hat said...

It is possible that the GOP's government shutdown was an epic PR event, to kick off a GOP messaging campaign to big money donors. If so, Lindberg's argument is probably a good take on the intended message.

So one question is whether the shutdown was in fact planned and stage-managed by GOP leadership, or if they really were cowering and helpless in the face of a revolt by 30 junior congressmen.

There's some evidence that the shutdown was intentional, the most obvious being that it took McConnell and Boehner less than 2 hours to bring the drama to a close. They could have done that at any time. The shutdown would have been just as easy to prevent as to end.

You might also question whether there was a subtext to the message. Not simply "you can trust the GOP," but "look, we can loose these dogs anytime too. They're another resource we have."

In any case, the (perfectly predictable) fallout from the shutdown bodes ill for Tea Party access to big money donors. You don't pay dogs, just their keepers.

White Hat said...

Reading Lindberg's article, I was stopped cold by this:

"The GOP is indeed a more uniformly conservative party now than it has ever been, just as the Democratic Party is more uniformly liberal."

Every study I've read indicates that that is a fallacy about Democrats. In fact, it's a meme mostly propagated by Republicans to demonize Democrats.

"False equivalency" rears its stupid head in an otherwise well-reasoned article. Too bad.