There’s a scene in The Dark Knight Rises—the final film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy—in which the villain, Bane, taunts the Caped Crusader before crippling him. “I was wondering what would break first,” he says, “your spirit, or your body!”
If you replaced “body” with “caucus,” you could ask the same question of House Speaker John Boehner. It was clear, from the start, that Boehner’s heart wasn’t in the shutdown or the fight to defund the Affordable Care Act. But now his caucus has lost its desire to fight as well. As reported by several outlets, Republicans have agreed to a “deal” that reopens the government through January 15, raises the debt ceiling through early February, allows the Treasury to resume “extraordinary measures” to delay hitting the debt limit, requires both chambers to reach a budget deal by December, provides back pay for federal workers, and requires enhanced income verification for Obamacare beneficiaries.
There’s nothing in here for Democrats, but that doesn’t matter: It’s a complete capitulation by Republicans, made worse by the beating they’ve taken in the court of public opinion. Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of the GOP and its handling of the budget. It’s too early to make predictions about the 2014 midterm elections, but for now, we can say that the shutdown has destroyed Republican chances in New York City—where mayoral candidate Joe Lhota is running away from the national brand—and in Virginia, where gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli is running against the shutdown, and desperately trying to distance himself from the Tea Party movement he used to embrace. Conservative provocateur Rush Limbaugh has chimed in as well, telling his audience that he has “never seen a major political party simply occupy placeholders, as the Republican Party is doing.”
By holding firm and refusing to bend to Republican demands for capitulation, Obama has broken the Republican Party. Neither Ted Cruz—the ringleader of this entire effort—nor his allies have much to say. According to my colleague Ben Jacobs, the Texas senator will not filibuster the deal when it comes for a vote on the Senate floor. (This hasn’t been a complete wash for Cruz: his joint fundraising committee earned nearly $800,000 from this gambit, and he’s established himself as the leader of the radical Right.) And when asked about the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Heritage Action—which pushed the shutdown as a strategy—declared that it was a nonstarter until the next presidential administration. “Well everybody, understands that we’ll not be able to repeal this law until 2017,” said the conservative think tank’s CEO said this morning in an interview with Fox News.
There is a small chance that the relatively short debt ceiling extension will result in another round of hostage taking and crisis negotiation. But I doubt it. The Republican Party has been chastened. Its threats are empty. Yes, it could go this route again. But it would alienate the public and further jeopardize its prospects for the fall. Indeed, if this was self-destructive, then provoking another stand-off—during an election year, no less—would be suicidal.