With Labor Day now behind us, Americans returning from their summer break are just starting to pay attention to the looming midterm election. If you listen to congressional Democrats, they will tell you that we are just days away from a Republican-led government shutdown. Republicans, they would have you believe, would take such a drastic action in retaliation over President Obama’s expected amnesty that would allow millions of undocumented aliens to stay in the United States without fear of deportation. To show their disapproval, the thinking goes, the Republicans would shut the government down in an act of petulance to retaliate against Obama and show their constituents they were standing up to the president.
As far as a strategy goes, the Democrats would be on to something—if only that’s what congressional Republicans were planning to do in the coming days. Unfortunately for them, Republicans have no plans to shut down the government in time to avert what many Democrats believe will be a tough referendum on them and the president in November. If you listen to prominent Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) or Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) they will tell you that a government shutdown isn’t going to happen. Ditto with House Speaker John Boehner on the other side of the Capitol.
To be fair, there have been a few Republicans who have offered commentary in recent days that has given Democrats hope their partisan opponents will self-implode over a government shutdown. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) has not shied away from linking a government shutdown to potential amnesty should President Obama proceed to do so in the coming days. Ditto Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). I won’t question the sincerity of either man of trying to draw a line in the sand, but this is a strategy that will fail to garner widespread support. I remember sitting in a House Republican leadership meeting in 1995 when then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA) sought to rally his colleagues that a shutdown would draw clear distinctions between Republicans and the Democrat in the White House. Well, it drew a distinction all right, and it was one that tarnished the GOP brand for some time.
Nearly 20 years later the result will remain the same—the president will muster the bully pulpit and deploy his Cabinet to explain why hard-headed Republicans have shut down the government, ruined family vacations, and canceled school field trips. I trust Republican leaders aren’t anxious—or stupid—enough to fall into the trap Democrats hope they’ll fall into.
And to be fair, there is a divide between mainstream conservative Republicans and their fringe counterparts who would seek to shut down the government to signal their disagreement with the budget agreement forged with President Obama through 2015 as well as efforts to de-fund the Export-Import Bank.
All that being said, does any of this make me believe that the GOP might shut down the government? No. Still, there could be a rebellion in the House caucus. But mostly, I think the Democrats are cynically pushing this shutdown talk as a way to scare their base. There are three main reasons why Democrats persist with the myth the Republicans will shut down the government in the coming days:
They Have No Solid Issues to Run on in November: Between the phony “War on Women” and the charge that Republicans are “rolling back the clock on voting rights” while planning to impeach President Obama, Democrats have largely tried to scare the electorate in hopes of staving off a Republican takeover of the Senate, which would largely derail the remaining two years of the Obama administration. I was a guest on CNN Monday and anchor Carol Costello asked whether black anger following the tragedy in Ferguson would translate into increased black voter turnout. One problem here: Blacks voted at a greater percentage of the population than whites in the 2012 election. In the key battleground state of North Carolina, for example, blacks outpaced white voters by 7.5 percent in 2012; whipping up phony outrage to “enrage” blacks is a cynical ploy by the Democrats to play the race card and further divide the country. Put another way, why are black leaders such as Rep. John (D-GA) Lewis railing loudly to ensure blacks votes are counted when blacks are already going to the polls in record numbers?
Obama Is an Anchor Around the Necks of Democrats Up for Reelection This Fall: With his approval numbers hovering in the low 40s, Obama remains an albatross around the neck of Senate Democrats hoping to retain control of the chamber. Fighting for their political survival, incumbents in North Carolina, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Alaska have taken to the airwaves to criticize the president on a host of issues ranging from the Veterans Administration to energy to health care to immigration. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) went so far in recent days to comment on the record to The New York Times that Senate Democrats “don’t have much of a relationship” with the leader of their party. The last thing Democrats want voters thinking about right before an election is their lockstep solidarity in supporting Obama’s deeply unpopular policies.
Republicans Have a Remarkable Ability of Committing Political Suicide: Congressional Democrats undoubtedly get on their knees every night to pray that Republicans will do something stupid to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. From the government shutdown for which they were blamed in the media last year to the gaffes from flawed candidates (think “forcible rape”), Democrats can only hope that Republicans will find a way to blow up their electoral fortunes this November. This year, it isn’t likely to happen. From McConnell to Boehner on down, Republicans recognize they have a better than 50 percent chance to control both chambers of Congress. Staying on message discussing the sluggish economy and Obama’s detachment in addressing the mounting terrorist threat posed by ISIS, Republicans will avoid the errors that could extinguish their political tailwinds heading into November.
Democrats can wish upon a star that talking up a government shutdown or impeachment of President Obama will dramatically alter their prospects in the midterm elections. Their sympathetic allies in the media will give them all the airtime they need to spread this fiction; the question remains, what will voters think when Democratic claims of Republican chicanery fail to materialize? I suspect they know the answer and are fighting for their political lives.