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October 10, 2013 3:17 PM Maybe They Think They’re Gonna Win

By Ed Kilgore

As we await further developments on Boehner’s debt-limit extension gambit, the question you have to wonder about if it works is whether and why Republicans are happy about deciding to continue the government shutdown indefinitely.

Sure, the hard-core “Defund Obamacare” folk are thrilled that they are back in the driver’s seat. But do they really think they can keep this up, despite an absence of any evidence they can ever succeed in securing a “defunding” or “delay” of implementation of the Affordable Care Act? And what about other Republicans, particularly those who agreed with Boehner’s earlier judgment that a government shutdown was a far less politically fruitful tactic than a debt default threat?

The original impetus for the “Defund Obamacare” strategy was obviously that Americans hate the Affordable Care Act so much that they’d actively support not only its evisceration, but a massive hostage-taking exercise with that objective. There’s zero evidence that is happening. More recently, some Republicans became convinced that the “piecemeal funding” strategy, in which GOPers regularly hold votes to reopen wildly popular government programs and services, which Democrats then reject, is a public relations masterstroke that will make people forget GOPers manufactured this whole crisis to begin with. I guess I’m just not cynical enough to believe that.

But some conservative voices are adopting a dangerous “what do we have to lose?” tone, like Ben Domenech:

House Republicans weren’t trusted with anything like the reins of government even before the shutdown, either (they were already the most unpopular Congress ever before the last election - should they really fear the difference between 14 percent popularity then and 10 percent popularity today?). The American people have a longstanding belief, bolstered by a century of campaigning, that Democrats generally love government and Republicans generally hate it, and that’s fine in a midterm election, especially in an era when no one trusts the government with anything.
The logical, responsible policy move here given Obamacare’s disastrous launch would be an individual mandate delay, just like Jon Stewart and Wolf Blitzer have suggested. Douthat’s right that Obama won’t ever agree to do that. But every day he doesn’t is a good day to advance the argument, and asserting that delay as the price of reopening the government doesn’t mean you have to get it in order to be successful.

As “victories” go, them’s pretty slim pickings, particularly when it involves an extended shutdown of the entire federal government and the infliction of deliberate pain on millions of people. But you just don’t get the sense these people care at all about that if it means giving up on their “messaging.”

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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