Matt Lewis

Three reasons Republicans will be blamed for a default

“I don’t get this,” Sean Hannity said incredulously to Sen. John McCain on his Fox News show. McCain had argued that if the Boehner debt deal fails and a default ensues, Republicans would be blamed.

This made little sense to Hannity. After all, President Obama set an “artificial deadline.” House Republicans passed the “Cut, Cap, and Balance” plan, while Democrats passed nothing. And so, Hannity reasoned, “any default would be on [Obama’s] shoulders.”

“Why would Republicans get the blame?” Hannity asked.

There are three reasons — each of which make emotional appeals to the public, instead of logical ones.

1. Democrats have the bully pulpit. As president, Barack Obama commands the attention of voters far more than any lowly member of the House. Asking a House Member — even the Speaker of the House — to compete with a president is rarely a fair fight. The American people elected Obama, while John Boehner was sent to Washington by the people of the 8th congressional district of Ohio. Moreover, Boehner’s message can be undermined or muddied by other House Republicans (or even staffers).

Boehner also faces a major logistical disadvantage: If the government defaults, Obama gets to pick which people get checks and which people don’t: He can refuse to send Social Security checks to the elderly if he perceives Republicans will be forced to pay the political price. As McCain told Hannity last night: “The one who will be making the decision [on who gets paid] will be the President of the United States.”

2. The MSM. Conservatives ought to understand that the mainstream media will blame the Tea Party. This is not rocket science.

3. Party Branding. Average Americans hold certain and unshakable presuppositions about the political parties. Each party has a “brand.” And people who don’t follow politics closely use mental shortcuts to interpret the world presented to them by the media. For example, if a crime wave swept the nation, it would almost certainly hurt Democrats, since most voters assume that the GOP is tough on crime while Democrats are weak. This may not always be fair or even true, but perception is reality.

Now think about how the GOP is perceived when it comes to running government itself. Deep down, the impression many Americans have is that the GOP really doesn’t like government (or Social Security or unemployment checks, for that matter). So if the government ceases to function properly — and if Social Security checks are not mailed — who does the average American (who isn’t a political junkie) automatically blame? Republicans, of course.

Unlike John McCain, the Sean Hannitys of the world are perhaps too myopically focused on the day-to-day superabundant rush of information to gauge the public’s slower reactions and inherent assumptions about the parties.