How Did Republicans Squander Such a Good Hand?


A CNN/ORC International poll released this morning (and conducted Sept. 27-29) neatly sums up how the tactics of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and the insurgent wing of the Grand Old Party is alienating voters otherwise sympathetic toward anti-Democratic Party policy ideas. To wit:

* 57 percent say they do not like Obamacare, but

* Six in 10 say they don't want the government to be shut down, and

* 68 percent say a government shutdown would be a bad thing.

Add to those findings an even bigger natural advantage for the Republicans in negotiations this week, which is:

* 61 percent of Americans say that any debt ceiling hike should come with spending cuts.

These conclusions are not particularly new. A Reason-Rupe poll from three weeks ago found that 70 percent of Americans, including 59 percent of Democrats, opposed raising the debt ceiling.

And yet the Republican conversation and de facto approach throughout the summer and all the way until about 33 hours ago has been to use the Fiscal Year deadline to try to defund Obamacare, even though anyone with a set of functioning eyeballs could tell you that you cannot undo a major law when the only majority you control is in the House of Representatives.

It would be perfectly plausible to attach a one-year delay in Obamacare implementation to the latest continuing resolution funding the federal government if, in fact, you had been making that particular case to the public for the past several months, and perhaps submitted a bill to that effect earlier than two days before the lights went out. But Republicans didn't do that.

Instead they have been tirelessly using unpopular and unpersuasive means to an unworkable end. And now, unsurprisingly, those polls that were showing the public dividing blame for a shutdown almost equally between the two major parties are now starting to break against the GOP.

Public-opinion fundamentals showed that Republicans had a strong hand in attaching spending cuts to the debt ceiling, passing a continuing resolution that keeps federal spending flat, and making modest reforms to a health care law likely to become even less popular upon rollout. Will a government shutdown, and everything that led to it, make those policy wins more likely or less? As with Bill Maher's premature victory lap for the Jerry Brown miracle in California, I will be pleasantly surprised if the ideological finger-crossing turns into measurable reality, and will be happy to eat crow if it does. But if InTrade was still in business, I wouldn't bet on it.