On Thursday afternoon, as the government shutdown entered its third day, a Republican member of the House sat down with a group of reporters in an office building not far from the Capitol. He spoke on the condition that he be referred to only as a House lawmaker, but without betraying the agreement it’s fair to say his was a perspective well worth listening to. The congressman walked the group through a set of issues involved in the shutdown — the continuing resolution, House-Senate relations, the coming debt-limit talks, and more — but what was perhaps most striking was his frank talk about how the GOP leadership got itself into its current predicament. What became clear after an hour of discussion was that the House Republican leadership’s position at the moment is the result of happenstance, blundering, and an continuing inability to understand the priorities of both GOP and Democratic colleagues.
The congressman began with an anecdote from the Civil War. “I would liken this a little bit to Gettysburg, where a Confederate unit went looking for shoes and stumbled into Union cavalry, and all of a sudden found itself embroiled in battle on a battlefield it didn’t intend to be on, and everybody just kept feeding troops into it,” the congressman said. “That’s basically what’s happening now in a political sense. This isn’t exactly the fight I think Republicans wanted to have, certainly that the leadership wanted to have, but it’s the fight that’s here.”