“I know we don’t want to be here, but we’re going to win this, I think” is what Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during a private moment following a television appearance. It was a “hot mic” moment, and a candid one at that.
At least some Republicans, it seems, are optimistic about the government shutdown, which has shuttered almost every agency of the federal government and furloughed hundreds of thousands of workers. I can admire Paul’s confidence, but it’s delusional. If there’s anything the public has been clear on, it’s that they are resolutely opposed to the Republican Party holding government hostage to narrow political demands. Some 72 percent of Americans disapprove of shutting down the government over differences with the Affordable Care Act, according to the latest Quinnipiac national survey, and a CNN poll released Monday shows that Americans would be more inclined to blame Republicans than anyone else.
This reality, however, hasn’t made its way into the cloistered world of congressional Republicans. There, it is a winning strategy to criticize park rangers for blocking national parks—as Texas Rep. Randy Neugebauer did this afternoon—as if they, and not the House GOP, are responsible for the closures.
Indeed, if you’ve read or listened to any of the statements made by congressional Republicans, you will have noticed a bizarre entitlement in all of them, as if the GOP deserves concessions from the White House. This was best illustrated by a comment from Indiana Representative Marlin Stutzman: “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”
There’s no doubt that some of this entitlement stems from a sincere belief in the rightness of their cause. Obamacare is dangerous, they argue, so why should they rest in their opposition? As a recent memo from the Democratic firm Democracy Corps argues, Republican voters think Obama has “imposed” his agenda, and they want their leaders to do everything they can to stop him.
Still, this doesn’t explain the optimism of figures like Rand Paul, who seem to think that this is still a winnable situation, despite the public’s clear opposition to GOP tactics. It might have something to do with the fact that, in past confrontations, Obama has folded. In fact, this is what Republicans are telling themselves; former Bush administration speechwriter Marc Thiessen has urged the GOP to use the debt ceiling as leverage for concessions, “Obama will not permit an economic crisis worse than 2008—09 and the ‘loss of millions of American jobs’ on his watch. He has no choice but to negotiate with GOP leaders and cut a deal to avoid a government default.”
This isn’t a crazy belief to have. When threatened with shutdown, debt default, or some other hit to the economy—the fiscal cliff, for instance—President Obama has either made concessions or lowered his requests in order to defuse a dangerous situation. What Republicans have learned, as a result, is that they can stage confrontations, create crisis, and win legislative victories without sacrifice.
But, as reported by Ezra Klein at The Washington Post, the president is holding firm. Writes Klein, “The White House says that their position is simple, and it will not change: They will not negotiate over substantive policy issues until Republicans end the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.”
Obama will not budge. Which means that Republicans have to make a choice. Either they leave their fantasyland, accept defeat, and end the shutdown, or they continue to damage their already crumbling brand.