Base unimpressed with Cantor’s caution

BASE UNIMPRESSED WITH CANTOR’S CAUTION…. For months, we’ve seen all kinds of Republican officeholders, candidates, and media personalities talking up the notion of shutting down the government next year, if there’s a House GOP majority. Even John Boehner, the would-be Speaker, noticeably hasn’t ruled it out.

It came as something of a surprise, then, when House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) threw cold water on the idea earlier this week, while talking to the Wall Street Journal, no less. Asked if we’re likely to see a replay of the 1995-style budget showdown that led Newt Gingrich to shut down the government, Cantor said, “No. I don’t think the country needs or wants a shutdown.” He added that when it comes to pursuing their agenda, Republicans “have to be careful” or they’ll be “seen as a bunch of yahoos.”

The base noticed the remarks, and isn’t at all happy about the notion of taking a shutdown off the table. Brian Beutler had this report today:

“Maybe I’m just one of those yahoos, but I think it’s crazy to take anything off the table,” said Mark Meckler, cofounder of the Tea Party Patriots. “Unfortunately I think Cantor is repeatedly making this mistake.”

“The closest thing we’re going to get to repeal right now is defunding,” Meckler said, and that won’t happen if Republicans take their biggest bargaining chip off the table. “In battle you don’t go in and tell the other side we’ll only go so far, so if you push us this far we’ll stop.”

I think this is significant, not just because of potential tensions between GOP leaders and the anti-government zealots likely to give them a House majority, but because it’s a reminder about the base’s expectations. Americans in general almost certainly have no idea that a government shutdown is a possible result of electing a Republican House, but for the Tea Party crowd, there’s an expectation of a battle royal — and they don’t take disappointment well.

When it comes to a showdown, Boehner, Cantor, & Co. may reach a point at which they want to tell the base, “We really don’t want to shutdown the government.” It’s important to remember that the activist base will reply, “We don’t care what you want.”