If early polling holds up over the long term, then the Republicans likely will bear the brunt of voter outrage over the government shutdown or – even worse – a first-ever default on the U.S. debt.
On the third day of the partial government shutdown Thursday, a new CBS News poll revealed that nearly three-fourths of Americans disapprove of the shutdown and more of them are blaming Republicans than President Obama and the Democrats. If the crisis produces another financial meltdown, the political fallout for the GOP could be devastating to their ambitions to win back control of the Senate in 2014 and the White House two years later. It’s one of the reasons congressional aides are reportedly saying that House Speaker John Boehner intends to work with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling and prevent a default.
“The longer the shutdown continues, the more the GOP will be held responsible for this costly, contrived crisis,” said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. “The Capitol Hill bunch seem to be in a bubble, talking mainly to one another and Tea Party backers.
“The anger will continue to grow, and a lengthy shutdown – combined with a debt payment confrontation – will be remembered by a lot of voters in 2014,” he added. “This is affecting the entire Republican brand; it almost won’t matter, in this one sense, who the nominee is for president.”
Navigating these political shoals will be challenging for three GOP lawmakers who could soon be presidential candidates: freshmen Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Each has followed very different avenues during the shutdown that could shape their chances of capturing the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
Cruz has taken the most daring approach, by instigating a Tea Party insurrection over Obamacare that precipitated the crisis. Paul has suppressed his contrarian, libertarian instincts in favor of a role as peacemaker. And Ryan, after a mysterious absence from the public eye, has jumped back into the fray in search of a “Grand Bargain.” Here is a look at how these three have maneuvered throughout the shutdown:
THE BOMB THROWER
Sen. Ted Cruz is finally feeling the full brunt of a Capitol Hill backlash.
His fiery speechmaking and demands to kill Obamacare at all costs helped to provoke the shutdown while enthralling Republican voters thinking about the 2016 presidential race.
But his tactics have put the GOP at a disadvantage. He could not stop Senate Democrats from pushing through a “clean” continuing resolution to keep the government operating beyond the start of the new fiscal year.
And now the House Republicans he encouraged to defund Obamacare are grumbling about having lost face. Piecemeal efforts at funding individual parts of the government have flopped, as President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have hung tough despite the furloughing of more than 800,000 federal workers, the shuttering of large swaths of departments and agencies and the closing of national parks and monuments.
Cruz faced a barrage of hostile questions Wednesday from angry GOP senators during a closed-door meeting in the Senate’s Mansfield Room, according to Politico.
Republicans pressed him to explain how he would propose to end the bitter budget impasse with Democrats, according to senators who attended the meeting. A defensive Cruz had no clear plan to force an end to the shutdown or explain how he would defund Obamacare, as he has demanded all along.
“It was very evident to everyone in the room that Cruz doesn’t have a strategy – he never had a strategy, and could never answer a question about what the end-game was,” said one senator who attended the meeting. “I just wish the 35 House members that have bought the snake oil that was sold could witness what was witnessed today at lunch.”
Sen. Rand Paul has adopted a new role in the crisis: peacemaker. It’s a sign of a lawmaker with presidential ambitions who is shrewdly choosing his fights.
As the son of Ron Paul, the former presidential candidate and Texas congressman, he has a built-in Tea Party base and was named to Time Magazine’s 100 most influential list.
“I want to be part of the national debate, so whether I run or not, being considered is something that allows me to have a larger microphone,” he told reporters last spring.
On Feb. 13, Paul delivered the official “Tea Party” response to President Obama’s state of the union speech. Then, taking a page out of Hollywood’s iconic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” the curly-haired ophthalmologist drew national attention and conservative acclaim by waging a nearly 13-hour Senate filibuster in March to contest the Obama administration’s use of drones to kill suspected terrorists.
So it was interesting when Paul abruptly struck a pose on the battle over the budget and Obamacare that was the mirror opposite of Cruz’s approach. Paul said early on that a government shutdown would be a bad thing, and that he would do his best to try to prevent one.
In a letter to all senators sent on Wednesday afternoon, on the second day of the shutdown, Paul called for a bipartisan coffee meeting on the Capitol steps Thursday morning to “alleviate this tension and partisanship.”
“We are all anxious about the shutdown and had to send the bulk of our staff home – worried about their future,” he wrote. “Maybe by chatting over coffee together we can just talk and see if we can get along.”
The event had a sparse turnout.
THE GRAND BARGAINER
Rep. Paul Ryan arguably had as much to do with creating the current budget crisis and shutdown as anyone. The House Budget Committee Chairman and 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee crafted a “balanced budget” blueprint last March that was premised on repealing all Obamacare expenditures.
Ryan sharply criticized the Obama administration and Senate Democratic budget plans for failing to balance in the coming decade. Yet in a breathtaking display of budgetary sleight of hand, Ryan’s budget got to balance by preserving hundreds of billions of added revenues and Medicare savings from the Affordable Care Act that he wants to dismantle. His plan essentially pre-empted any chance of a compromise with the Senate and Obama.
As Congress and the White House moved closer to a shutdown in recent weeks, Ryan was oddly missing from the debate. The Capital Times of Wisconsin wrote that, as the federal government shutdown became more of a possibility a couple of weeks ago, “political observers began to wonder, ‘Where the heck is Paul Ryan?’”
But that was then. Ryan is suddenly back in the thick of it – promoting the very type of grand bargain featuring spending cuts, entitlement and tax reforms and a new debt ceiling that he has scrupulously avoided for much of the year.
As more pragmatic House Republicans have begun clamoring for a deal with the White House to end the crisis, Ryan is trying to reassert himself into the debate.
“I want to get a budget agreement,” Ryan told Politico. “That’s what we’ve been about all along.”