Talking Themselves Into Another Government Shutdown

As the engines of the Right-Wing Noise Machine rev themselves up into a high-pitched, chattering whine in anticipation of the Great Tyrannical Amnesty Declaration of 2014, it becomes harder and harder to believe that Republicans are going to resist the temptation to shut down the federal government again. Some of them, of course, are already there. And a lot more are back to the “partial shutdown” position that Ted Cruz tried to sell during his “Defund Obamacare” runup to the 2013 shutdown: the fantasy that Republicans can get Obama blamed for a shutdown if they keep saying they want everything other than the contaminated areas of government to continue.

But by far the more dangerous rationalization was nicely summarized at the Prospect today by Paul Waldman: Republicans don’t think voters will remember what happens now, because they didn’t last time around.

Approval of the Republican party took a nose dive in the wake of the shutdown, and though it is still viewed negatively by most Americans, that didn’t stop Republicans from having a great election day. Because as at least some within the GOP understand, you can create chaos and crisis, and large numbers of voters will conclude not that Republicans are bent on creating chaos and crisis but that “Washington” is broken, and the way to fix it is to elect the people who aren’t in the president’s party. That in this case that happened to be precisely the people who broke it escaped many voters. The fact that the electorate skewed so heavily Republican in an election with the lowest turnout since 1942 also helped them escape the consequences of their behavior.

There’s a very fine line between realizing you’ve escaped the consequences of your behavior and concluding there are no consequences. And once you arrive at that conclusion, you’re the alcoholic who has a drink or two, doesn’t pass out, and decides to celebrate the drinking problem being gone by ordering up a whole bottle.

That seems to be Waldman’s analysis, too:

[W]e may be seeing the front end of an evolution in their thinking, not just from “Shutting down the government would be bad for us” to “We could shut down the government and be just fine,” but from there all the way to “Shutting down the government would be genius.” Just you wait.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.