Oct 17th 2013

Why Did the GOP Miscalculate So Badly in Shutdown Battle?

by Robert Creamer

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist and author of the recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on amazon.com.

After his disastrous loss in the government shutdown battle last night, Republican Speaker John Boehner said, “We fought the good fight. We just didn’t win.”
But the Republicans did not simply lose a tough fight that they knew was a long shot.   Much of the Republican leadership fundamentally miscalculated their odds of success – and underestimated the consequences of defeat.
Massive miscalculations of this sort generally stem from one of two factors:
·      A failure to understand the self-interests, capabilities and assets of your adversary, or;
·      A misalignment between the self-interests of decision makers, and the group for which the decisions are being made.
In this case both were true.
First, let’s be clear, the Republicans were not “defeated” by the Democrats in this battle.  They self-destructed.   As Congressman Zoe Lofgren said last night, this was not so much a homicide as a suicide.
And let there be no mistake, the shutdown battle has been an unqualified political disaster for the Republican Party.  Some Republican pundits claim that “both parties” have suffered.  Maybe.  But in the political context that can’t be true.  The outcome either benefits one side or the other.  In this case, the relative damage to the Republican Party was massive.
Public support for Republican candidates plummeted, and its chances of maintaining control of the House and gaining control of the Senate decreased. 
Fewer Americans now have a favorable view of the Republican brand than at any other time in the history of polling. 
While a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 53% disapproved of the way President Obama was handling the budget crisis and shutdown, and 61% disapproved of Democrats in Congress – almost three-fourths  --74% -- disapproved of the Republicans.  Republican disapproval extended to 76% of independents and 47% of self-identified Republicans.
Worse, for the GOP, the shutdown has jeopardized the Party’s control of the House, and its hopes of retaking the Senate in next year’s elections.
Recently, Public Policy Polling (PPP) conducted surveys for MoveOn.org in 36 swing Congressional districts with Republican incumbents and found that, after the shutdown, Democrats could easily win at least 29.  Democrats only need 17 seats to take control of the House.  In virtually every district the shutdown was highly unpopular and messaging about the shutdown increased the Democratic lead in the survey.
Republicans have to take at least six seats to take control of the Senate next year.  But another PPP poll released yesterday in six key swing Senate races -- this one sponsored by Americans United for Change -- found that voters were extremely unhappy with the shutdown and as a result Democrats led in five and are tied in a sixth.   That is particularly true because many of the GOP Senate challengers are currently members of the House majority that helped lead the shutdown effort.
But that’s not all.   The shutdown battle exploded divisions and disunity in the GOP.  It exposed a civil war in the Republican Party between the Tea Party and the Party’s establishment, the business wing that provides its financial base.   And it created greater unity in the Democratic Party and progressive movement than at any other time in the last half century.
Unions, community groups, religious organizations, women’s groups, vets and progressive organizations all worked with passion and complete harmony to mobilize everyday people across America.  They generated tens of thousands of calls to Congress, produced TV spots, conducted press events, attended town hall meetings, and generated robust digital programs.   The progressive base was inspired by the resolution and clarity of the President and Congressional leadership.
The Republicans started the battle intent on “defunding ObamaCare.”  When it ended, ObamaCare was practically unscathed.   In fact, the technical glitches associated with its launch had been completely overshadowed by the shutdown but the program was off and running. 
True, the Continuing Resolution that passed Congress extended the low sequester levels of government spending that inadequately fund critical public services for several more months.  But that had been true before the shutdown began.
In fact, the Republicans got virtually nothing substantive as a result of the pain they inflicted on million of Americans, tarnishing America’s reputation abroad, and squandering massive amounts of political support.
And they lost large amounts of leverage.   In the end the GOP refused to go through with their threats to send the country into default if they didn’t get their way.  When a hostage taker with a bomb demonstrates that he is unwilling to actually go through with his threats to blow up himself and his hostage, his leverage is gone.
Why did the GOP miscalculate so badly?  Four reasons:
     1). First, they mistakenly believed the President and Democratic Leadership would fold.   They had used similar hostage taking tactics during the last debt ceiling crisis in 2011 and succeeded in getting the sequester that did indeed cut spending on important programs (and by the way cut economic growth by at least 1.4% per year according to many economists).
But the GOP leaders failed to understand that three things were very different than they were in 2011. 
The President and his advisers believed that the economic recovery was so fragile in 2011 that it could not sustain the threat of a default, so they were much more willing to deal.  It is less fragile today. 
The President was up for re-election in 2012.   This time it is the Republicans in Congress who will alone face the voters in 2014.   President Obama is not running again.  He was much more willing to risk his political standing today than he was then.
Finally, the President and Democratic leadership vowed after 2011 that they would never again allow themselves to be extorted by the threat of default the way they were in 2011.   They had seen that movie and it did not end well.  This time they vowed – months in advance – that they would never again negotiate with the hostage takers.   In the end they didn’t.  The negotiations last night were not about the terms of a deal.  They were about the terms of surrender.
     2). The Republicans forgot that while many Americans don’t like “the Government” that is not the same as not liking “government.” 
You have to wonder what some of these Republicans think the government actually does.  They seem shocked that when they shut down the government, the national parks and monuments close, cancer trials come to a halt, people get laid off and don’t have money in their pockets to spend at local stores and businesses, and applications for veterans benefits don’t get processed.
Almost every day for the last two weeks, they would come with a bill to reopen some segment of the government that they had discovered was very popular with the voters.
Then they faced the prospect that their refusal to raise the debt ceiling might mean that there would be no money to pay Social Security checks, pay Medicare benefits, fund education and pay the police and military.
Turns out people like the things that government does for them, and when they begin to disappear, they stop taking those things for granted.
     3). The GOP completely ignored the data – the facts that their own pollsters were telling them about public opinion and the lessons of history.  Cognitive scientist tell us that when new data conflicts with the value frame through which you see the world, people are more prone to disregard the data than they are to discard the frame.   But for decision makers this is a serious problem.
In the last election, the GOP high command simply refused to believe the data that told them who was likely to turn out.  They actually believed until the night of the election that all of those minorities and millennial voters simply would not come out to vote.  They were wrong.
Many Republicans simply refuse to believe that human activity is changing the global climate – no matter how much scientific evidence is presented to the contrary.
Last night Senator Ted Cruz said: “Unfortunately, the Washington establishment did not listen to the American people.”  No matter that all of the public opinion research – from both parties – showed that the public opposed using the shutdown and threat of default to defund ObamaCare. 
And of course they completely ignored that when Newt Gingrich shut down the government in 1995, the 1996 election was a disaster for the GOP.
     4). There was a complete disjuncture between the self-interests of the people driving GOP decision-making and the interest of the party as a whole. 
To put it in a nutshell: the Tea Party lead the GOP down a blind alley and it got mugged – by the American people.
In many respects the GOP was hoisted on its own petard.  The redistricting that had gerrymandered so many Congressional districts that the GOP could maintain control of the House even though they lost the popular vote for Congress by over two million votes, also meant the creation of many solidly Red seats. 
That empowered the most radical elements in the Party to elect Members with extremist views that do not care so much about swing voters and general elections as they do about the threat of primaries from their political right.
But if the GOP is to maintain its hold of Congress – or win the Presidency -- in the face of major demographic shifts (growing numbers of Latinos, Asian Americans, single women voters and millennials) it has to appeal to the majority of Americans – it has to appeal to swing voters and independents. 
And then there was Senator Ted Cruz.  Cruz had only one interest: to raise his profile and build his fund raising base among the ultra right of the Party in anticipation of his run for President in 2016.
The interests of Tea Party activists and the GOP as a whole simply do not coincide.
Speaker John Boehner needed to pander to the Tea Party to maintain his Speakership – at least in the short run.  But that allowed the Party to veer off into the netherworld of right wing fantasy and led to a horrible defeat.
The question is whether wiser heads in the Party – those whose own interests actually coincide with those of the Party as a whole -- and who are capable of understanding the self-interests of others without the interference of an ultra right wing value frame – will grab control of the yoke before it is impossible for the GOP to recover from its spiral dive.
A good start would be for the House to pass immigration reform.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."
Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "Global regulators will no doubt be concerned about a potential volatility spillover from digital asset prices into traditional capital markets. They may not permit what could quickly amount to effective proxy approval by the back door for companies holding large proportions of a volatile asset on their balance sheets."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Since Russians began protesting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment, the security forces have apparently had carte blanche to arrest demonstrators – and they have done so by the thousands. If Russians so much as honk their car horns in solidarity with the protesters, they risk personal repercussions. The official response to the protests goes beyond the Kremlin’s past repression. It is war."
Feb 6th 2021
EXTRACT: ".......like Biden, Roosevelt was certainly no revolutionary. His task was to save American capitalism. He was a repairer, a fixer. The New Deal was achieved not because of Roosevelt’s genius or heroism, but because enough people trusted him to act in good faith. That is precisely what people are expecting from Biden, too. He must save US democracy from the ravages of a political crisis. To do so, he must reestablish trust in the system. He has promised to make his country less polarized, and to restore civility and truth to political discourse. In this endeavor, his lack of charisma may turn out to be his greatest strength. For all that he lacks in grandeur, he makes up for by exuding an air of decency."
Feb 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Europe must not lose sight of the long game, which inevitably will center on China, not Russia or relations with post-Brexit Britain. China is already establishing a presence in Iran, and demonstrating that it has the capital, know-how, and technology to project power and influence beyond its borders. Should it succeed in turning the Belt and Road Initiative into a line of geopolitical stepping-stones, it might soon emerge at Europe’s southeastern border in a form that no one in the EU foresaw."
Jan 29th 2021
EXTRACT: "One sign of this change is that, unlike all recent Democratic administrations, Biden’s hasn’t paid obeisance to Wall Street by giving bankers top jobs. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, is a former Federal Reserve chair and academic who has made it clear that she understands the country’s pressing social needs. Moreover, Biden consulted Warren on her economic views, and has named a former Warren adviser as Yellen’s deputy. Yellen’s appointment demonstrates that Biden shares the insight that enabled Trump’s rise: that too many Americans feel that they cannot get a fair share. "
Jan 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "Barack Obama cautioned in his final speech as president that, “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.” Yet isn’t that exactly what America has been doing? In a decade punctuated by the global financial crisis, the COVID-19 crisis, a racial-justice crisis, an inequality crisis, and now a political crisis, we have only paid lip service to lofty democratic ideals. ... Sadly, this complacency has come at a time of growing fragility for the American experiment. Internet-enabled connectivity is dangerously amplifying an increasingly polarized national discourse in an era of mounting social and political instability. The resulting vulnerability was brought into painfully sharp focus on January 6. The stewardship of democracy is at grave risk. "