GOP delusions lead to division and defeat, affect politics and policy

Ted Cruz’s absurd strategy to try to stop the Affordable Care Act has failed, more spectacularly than I initially expected.

After it led to a shutdown and a debt default loomed, public opinion turned sharply against the Republican party.

Tonight, Wednesday night, only 18 Senators voted against the compromise that funds the government and prevents a default.

On policy, the deal negotiated by Senate leaders gives Republicans less than nothing.

As journalist Ezra Klein explains:

There are no policy concessions from the Democrats (income verification is already part of Obamacare). There are no procedural concessions from the Democrats. Just the opposite, in fact.

Democrats managed to get the budget conference they’ve been pursuing for six months. They got a CR of the length they wanted and ending before the next sequestration cuts rather than six-month CR that Sen. Susan Collins proposed. They got a debt-ceiling increase all the way into February. This is far beyond what Democrats thought possible on Sept. 30.

But the strategy Ted Cruz managed to force on the GOP was so suicidal that Democrats felt comfortable forcing Republicans to cave completely. They were so confident that they managed to reject a deal proposed by Sen. Susan Collins and supported by many Senate Democrats because it funded the government for longer than the Democratic leadership preferred. That’s a level of control over the outcome that Democrats never expected to have.

That’s right. The proposal put forth by Sen. Collins, including the repeal of the medical device tax lobbyists had wanted so badly, was rejected. Democrats got a far better deal.

Republicans are more divided than before

The schisms between tea party Republicans and others have come to the fore. Pragmatists who knew this strategy would fail and kept saying it wouldn’t work are seen as squishes by tea partiers.

Cruz told conservative talk show host Mark Levin that Republican senators had been “firing their cannons” at the House Republican caucus and likened the Senate GOP to an “air force bombing our own troops.” [source]

Heritage Action decided to score votes to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling as negatives.

Grassroots tea party supporters will go after conservative but pragmatic Republicans. If their candidates win primaries, they’ll have a harder time winning general elections. If their candidates don’t win, they’ll be dispirited and may not volunteer, donate money or even vote.

The Republican divide is felt by moderates as well. Take Rep. Peter King of NY, who has said Republicans must go after Ted Cruz. King said:

[Republicans] look like the crazies. Shutting down the government, throwing barricades against the White House, and having Ted Cruz reading Dr. Seuss, this is like the theater of the absurd. Except that it’s serious.

Yet the delusion continues

Heritage Action and other groups claim that Republicans could have won this fight, if only they had continued to fight. That’s absurd. They never had the votes.

They say that American really supported them. That’s delusional. The polls don’t show that. (By the way, Mainers, based on the cartoon they posted, it appears the Maine Heritage Policy Center shares this illusion.)

Here’s the reality

The national Republican party has been weakened. They look like they can’t govern.

Early polling shows that Republican congressional candidates are doing badly in many swing districts they now hold. Gerrymandered districts have swung rather sharply toward Democrats.

It is certainly far too early for these polls to be predictive of the 2014 elections. But the political situation is helping the Democratic Party recruit quality congressional candidates to challenge Republican office-holders. And it’s certainly put Democrats in a better place than they were a month ago.

This, by itself, gives Democrats strength in future policy debates.

Again, the 2014 election is a long way away. But when poll averages for House elections look like this, rational Republican strategists worry.

Preference for Democratic or Republican House candidate. Polling average from Pollster (71 polls). Democrat: 47.9%, Republican 40.3%



Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.