Yes, The Government Shutdown Hurt Republicans
A narrative is emerging amongst some on right. It goes like this: “Opponents of the ‘Defund Obamacare’ effort said it would do lasting damage, but we just won the Senate — so stuff it!” (The reason this is once again relevant is that there Republican legislators have little recourse should President Obama unilaterally act on immigration. The “power of the purse” is one of their few tools.)
Aside from the fact that it’s hard to imagine how another government shutdown could provoke any salutary benefits for Republicans or their (in my estimation) noble effort to defend the balance of power and rule of law, I would question the premise of this nascent narrative. Maybe there were some people who argued the shutdown would doom Republicans in 2014 (okay, I’m sure someone said that), but I certainly wasn’t one of them. In fact, I’m pretty sure I have consistently said the Defund effort was a fool’s errand, and that Republicans would win the Senate.
This is not to say that the shutdown didn’t have significant consequences — it did. Gallup clearly demonstrates Republicans suffered a precipitous ten point collapse during this time. There were other, less easily quantifiable, opportunity costs, too. It is highly likely the incident cost conservative Ken Cuccinelli a gubernatorial seat in Virginia. And the controversy also overshadowed the disastrous Obamacare rollout (which started on October 1) for more than a month, postponing the weeks and months of bad news cycles for the president.
But now that Republicans have won, some want to revisit the shutdown, and this suggests a couple possible implications: Can we extrapolate that — because 2014 was a good year — that the shutdown either a). didn’t matter, or b). might have helped Republicans?
The latter seems absurd. And I also reject the former. Suggesting the GOP’s success in November of 2014 means that they weren’t in danger in October of 2013 strikes me as a bit of revisionist history. Think about all the many scandals and controversies that have happened since the shutdown. As I implied above, the botched Obamacare website rollout wasn’t even realized/appreciated until after shutdown ended. Think about what we were talking about in the days and weeks leading up to the midterms — Ebola and ISIS.
The fact that the patient survived 13 months after the virus does not indicate that the patient wasn’t incredibly ill at the time. The expectation that anything would dog Republicans for more than a year seems a pretty high bar. With the pace of today’s news cycle, the notion that any one story would dominate 13 months later would always be highly unlikely.
That doesn’t mean that nothing we do in an odd year matters. If you get thrown out trying to steal second base in the third inning, it’s hard to say that event “cost” you the baseball game. You still have six innings left to play. And yet, sometimes you look back and say, “Yes, that was a huge mistake.” Just because you win doesn’t mean you played a perfect game — doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn from mistakes you made in the third inning.