The GOP Compromises On Shutdown: Is It Too Late, And Will It Cost Them The House?

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On Shutdown Day Number 10, Thursday morning finally saw a defrosting in the GOP's staunch opposition to a budget proposal that wouldn't cut Obamacare. Well, sort of. The shutdown isn't ending, but the Republican Party has proposed a six-week debt ceiling extension and a compromise to follow — a route they initially swore not to take, along the lines of "Guys, it's our way or the highway." Republicans on both sides of the decision to allow a shutdown know that the GOP's already-straggling reputation has been significantly harmed by their degree of their opposition to Obamacare, and the "compromise" they're settling on is PR language for backing down.

What changed? Well, the White House had initially been at the mercy of fringe Republicans' refusal to compromise, since the Obama administration is responsible for the economic downturn that would ensue if a budget wasn't agreed on. In the last ten days, however, the tide has turned. Poll after poll has seen a dramatic slash of support and pinning of blame on the GOP, and a spat of national outrage over the shutdown — not to mention a dramatic shoot-out, lockdown, and self-immolation outside the Capitol — has worsened the situation more than the stubbornest members of the Republican Party had anticipated.

You know what they say about history repeating itself? Well, if that's true, the GOP is in serious trouble. 

The last shutdown, in Clinton-era 1995, followed a similar trajectory: Clinton refused to sign a budget bill that House Speaker Newt Gingrich had insisted on, and the ensuing shutdown lasted almost four weeks. The blame, in the public's eye, ultimately fell on the Republican Party, and they suffered in the 1996 and 1998 elections (though conservative pundits consistently insist that it's the media's "liberal bias" that has provoked the mainstream view.) They maintained control in 1996, though losing nine seats — they gained two in the Senate, which saved their majority — but by 1998, they lost five seats, and Gingrich was ousted in a coup. (You can find him waxing lyrical about how the shutdown might not be a bad thing, if you were curious.)

This might be worse. The GOP had a notorious image problem even before the shutdown, thanks largely to appearing immobile on social issues such as gay marriage and abortion. The party was known to have cracks between camps in the party — cracks that have only been exacerbated by this latest incident — and, most importantly, the GOP's public approval ratings have been slashed. Not only have they gone too far with their argument, the line of thinking goes, it isn't even clear what their argument is. As Ezra Klein explained:

Two issues led to the shutdown. One was defunding or delaying Obamacare. The other, as Sen. Ted Cruz put it, was "making D.C. listen." What's been remarkable -- and largely unnoticed -- is that Republicans have abandoned both those demands...
The Republican Party initially justified this shutdown and these tactics to itself by arguing that it was channeling the will of the people and justified by the dangers of Obamacare. But they've lost pubic opinion and realized Obamacare isn't up for negotiation. But the loss of their original rationale for the shutdown hasn't led them to reopen the government. So now, as Rep. Martin Stutzman truthfully but unfortunately put it, they're just trying “to get something out of this." They don't know what they want except for something that lets them argue they didn't lose.

So: in next year's elections, will they lose the House? Until now, nobody thought so. There aren't many competitive districts around at present, and so it's been widely assumed by analysts that the GOP will retain control of the House until 2020, when census redistricting will next occur. 

But the shutdown might be the event that alters those predictions: Though it's in no way certain that the Republicans will lose ground and even their House majority, it's well-established that they're in a weaker position than they were a month ago. Sam Wang, a political data analyst also working on Klien's "Wonkbook" points out:

Since the election is over a year away, it is hard to predict how this will translate to future seat gain/loss. If the election were held today, Democrats would pick up around 30 seats, giving them control of the chamber. I do not expect this to happen. Many things will happen in the coming 12 months, and the current crisis might be a distant memory. But at this point I do expect Democrats to pick up seats next year, an exception to the midterm rule.

Still, as the 2012 elections showed, undecided voters tend to ultimately side with their original partisan leaning, meaning that a lot of Republican voters, if slightly exasperated with this whole "shutdown" malarkey, could ultimately vote the same way anyway. And there's something else: If the shutdown does result in economic fallout, then the country will likely experience dissatisfaction with the ruling administration, not the GOP. So even if there's a Republican fallout in the House, it might be Democratic leadership that ultimately suffers the blow.

Most importantly, a year is a long time in politics. This much, however, is sure: The GOP now has their work cut out for them.

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