Is the ‘defund’ strategy to blame for the Ryan-Murray budget deal?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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The long-term unintended consequences of the defund ObamaCare strategy continue to plague Republicans.

Last month, top political aides on both sides of the aisle agreed the government shutdown was key to Terry McAuliffe’s close victory in Virginia’s gubernatorial race. Assuming that’s correct, the consequences will last for at least four years (and one can assume that Gov. Terry McAuliffe will be an asset to candidate Hillary Clinton in this now-purple state).

But there is another example. In a column criticizing the proposed Rep. Paul Ryan-Sen. Patty Murray budget deal, the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein argues “there’s no doubt that the failed shutdown strategy helped marginalize conservatives, making it much more likely that congressional Republicans will grasp on to this deal to avert a repeat of the October fiasco.”

In other words, the shutdown might have made Republicans more gun-shy about being blamed for shutting down the government, and less fearful of conservative outside groups and activists.

It might have also been a turning point for Speaker John Boehner, perhaps strengthening his hand. This fall, Boehner appeared to be dragged into the shutdown by his caucus, but now it’s unclear whether he used that experience as a way to teach them a lesson. Regardless, he appears to have decided on a much more hardline approach since then. In recent days, Boehner has signaled he will pursue immigration reform — and has publicly chastised powerful conservative outside groups.

“The fact that conservatives now have reduced leverage to oppose this budget agreement is the type of consequence I feared when I disagreed with the tactics of the doomed effort to make the funding of the government contingent on getting Obama to agree to defund Obamacare, added Klein.

This is ironic, inasmuch as conservative opinion leaders (like Klein) who were critical of the defund effort seem to be signaling the grassroots conservatives are right — and the establishment is wrong — on this one.