Mechanics of the Shutdown

Originally posted on 10-11-2013

Calculus of the Government Shutdown

Let’s start this with a list of the following suppositions:

1. The more ideological, harder right parts of the Republican Party have/had the House almost completely under control.
2. They had this control because they are the same party as the majority and their leader, like any speaker of the house, would much prefer to pass the bills of his own party rather than deal with opposition compromises. If Boehner negotiates with Democrats, he will not get nearly as much of what he wants compared with if he can lead a unified Republican block.
3. The more ideologically pure elements of the Republican Party have used their influence to drive Boehner’s CR and budget proposals. They are the ones leading the fight against Obamacare.
4. There are at least two, probably three groups of Republicans with significant power right now. a) Republicans from very safe districts who fear nothing but an insurgency in the primaries. b) Republicans from contested districts, who depend on independents c) Governors who do not benefit from gerrymandering and thus depend on a wide range of support.

So here’s the logic. Right now, on Capitol Hill, group a is in the driver’s seat. Because their incentives point only to averting a Tea Party challenge, they don’t care very much about the national Republican Party. As such, they pursue the path of ideological purity. They are numerous but not a majority by themselves. Because they are numerous, Boehner needs them if he hopes to avoid dealing with Democrats.

However, because the safe district Republicans don’t care as much about the national Republican party as their own districts, they are unmoved when a historically large preference for Democratic candidates happens.

This presents a problem for the Republican governors, who are generally very afraid of looking like a congressman from a rural district in Alabama.

It also presents a problem for Speaker of the House Boehner and the RNC at large, both of whom would prefer not to get creamed in the Senate and presidential campaigns for the next cycle.

The shutdown and debt ceiling stalling tactics are both very unpopular – once again not something the safe seat Republicans have to worry about – and this is damaging the national party.

This disproportionate damage for the RNC means Democrats are unlikely to budge in their negotiations. The longer the shutdown persists, the weaker Democratic opponents become. A Rovian intelligence, should he or she exist on the Democratic side, might even support upping the Democratic Party demands (cuts to farm subsidies, small carbon taxes by another name, a closed tax loophole here or there) to take advantage of this self inflicted, national level mess on the Republican side – I certainly would.

Thus, the question for the future of the RNC becomes this. How long until Boehner and the party as a whole would rather just deal with Democrats than their own base?

It appears, with hindsight, to have been five days before he decided to split his caucus. It will be very interesting to see the ramifications of this decision. 

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