ARE WE SURE WE KNOW WHICH PARTY THE PUBLIC WOULD BLAME FOR A GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN FIGHT?
This post is likely to draw a lot of comments containing the word "Eeyore," but I'm not trying to be gloomy -- I'm just seeing a government shutdown on the horizon, with Democrats and most political insiders assuming that a shutdown would be an electoral millstone around the GOP's neck, and I'm wondering whether it's possible that the result could be different this time. Is it conceivable that we're misreading the pattern of past shutdowns?
The last shutdown centered on a Republican demand that President Obama agree to gut his own healthcare law. This one, if it happens, is likely to focus on executive action on immigration by the president -- action he's already taken to defer deportations for DREAMers, as well as action he seems about to take.
That's what's got me wondering. Last time, Republicans wanted to prevent implementation of a law enacted through the normal legislative process. It was hard for them to argue (as they tried to) that the president and congressional Democrats were the ones responsible for the shutdown -- especially when Ted Cruz had made himself the very public face of the shutdown (just as the public face of the 1995-96 shutdown was another Republican bomb-thrower, Newt Gingrich).
What if, this time, the public sees the president as the person instigating the shutdown fight? Last time, he was defending a conventionally passed law, and the Republicans' best argument for trying to shut down the government to prevent that law's implementation was "We don't like it." This time, the president will be defending executive actions -- and while the elite media will find highly respected professors ready to argue that the president has broad constitutional latitude on implementation of immigration laws, the right-wing media will flood the zone with self-righteous self-designated Constitution defenders claiming that the White House is trampling on our system of government with Hitler's jackboots. This will coincide with reports in the non-right-wing press of Democrats making political hay from Republican shutdown threats. (That's already happening.)
Is that going to be enough to make the public see Obama as the face of a shutdown battle, because he's seen as the one who's not playing well with others?
I don't know. I suppose it depends on how reasonable Obama and the Democrats seem after crazy-eyed zealots like Ted Cruz and Steve King begin clamoring for a shutdown. At that point, the Republicans may seem so loony and so determined to pick a fight that the public won't care whether there's a debate about what the president did or how he did it.
But to me it seems possible that this shutdown could be different from earlier shutdowns, with Democrats getting the greater share of blame. I just don't know.