The politics of the government shutdown

The politics of the government shutdown

With the government having lurched into its first shutdown since the 1990s, many commentators are focusing on the potential ill effects that it might have for Republicans. Almost all of these analyses use the shutdowns of 1995-1996 as their starting point. While I don’t think this development will be great for Republicans, many of the concerns are likely overwrought. Here are four points to ponder:

1. While the GOP’s tactics are similar to those employed in the mid-’90s, the goals are different. The earlier budget debates were broad in nature and dealt with the scope of government. The 104th Congress, led by Newt Gingrich, believed that they were the culmination of the realignment supposedly begun by Ronald Reagan, that Bill Clinton’s election was a fluke caused by Ross Perot’s candidacy, and that they had been elected with a mandate to shrink the size and scope of government dramatically….

2. John Boehner is not Newt Gingrich, and Barack Obama is not Bill Clinton. This is a fairly minor point, but Gingrich’s public persona did play a part in bringing the shutdown to an unhappy end for the GOP. He was polarizing from the start, and the media didn’t bend over backwards to help him out. Case in point: The Daily News cover depicting him as a crybaby who shut down the government because he had to sit in the back of Air Force One. Boehner, on the other hand, has kept a much lower profile, and while he isn’t all that popular, he isn’t a lightening rod either (although Ted Cruz seems to be inching toward filling Gingrich’s shoes in that regard).

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