The Republicans Are Blaming Their Victims

If the government shuts down, it will be the fault of the GOP. But they don’t want you to believe that.

09.30.13 5:45 PM ET

Bullies, of all stripes, are prone to blaming their victims. “I wouldn’t have had to hit you if you had just given me your money,” and so on. This includes the House Republican caucus. After provoking a confrontation over the Affordable Care Act and threatening to shut down the government if it isn’t defunded or delayed, Republicans are now blaming Democrats for the situation.

“If Harry Reid forces a government shutdown,”said Texas Senator Ted Cruz on Meet the Press yesterday, “that will be a mistake. I hope he backs away from that ledge that he’s pushing us towards. But that is his position.” Likewise, said Texas Republican Michael Burgess, “I think the ball will firmly be in Harry Reid’s court…If he wants to shut it down, that’s his business.” And on Fox News Sunday, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy told that it was the Senate’s responsibility to agree to the House resolution and fund the government, “We will pass a bill…that will keep the government open, that will reflect the House, that I believe the Senate can accept, that will have fundamental changes in Obamacare that can protect the economy.”

But this misses the mark in a huge way. Republicans have been plotting a shutdown for much of the last month. To suddenly switch gears and say that Democrats are to blame for refusing to touch the Affordable Care Act is the legislative equivalent of quitting a game of basketball when the other side won’t give you 10 additional points. Indeed, to extend the analogy, it’s as if the GOP is behind but doesn’t want to do the work to win a lead. Instead, it would rather sabotage the game and try to extort its way to a victory.

What’s more, the public doesn’t seem receptive to the argument that Democrats are driving the nation toward a government shutdown. According to the latest poll from CNN, 69 percent of Americans say that congressional Republicans are acting like “spoiled children.” Democrats receive bad ratings as well—58 percent say the same about the party—but 11 percentage points is a wide difference. More significantly, 60 percent of Americans say that it’s more important for Congress to avoid a shutdown than it is to make changes in the Affordable Care Act, which runs counter to the GOP’s position.

For as much as Americans are divided or ambivalent about Obamacare, it doesn’t make sense to assume support for repeal or defunding. The latest Morning Consult tracking poll confirms this; while only 48 percent of registered voters approve of the president’s health-care law, 55 percent say Congress should either let the law take effect or make changes to improve the law. And an additional 12 percent say Congress should expand it.

The problem is that the House Republican caucus is effectively controlled by the handful of lawmakers who represent those Americans who want Congress to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. As the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza pointed out last week, the GOP’s “suicide caucus” is concentrated in the South, the Midwest, and Appalachia. In their aging, racially homogenous districts, Barack Obama lost to Mitt Romney by a landslide, and his health-care law was decisively repudiated.

These Republicans are acting on behalf of America, just not one that most people would recognize.