Yes, it’s clear that Republicans are winning this battle over the budget, in the metrics that really matter. But will they win in the end? That depends on their strength of will.
If you measure winning and losing by how the media treats the issue, then your perception is going to be that the Democrats are winning, hands down. There is an onslaught against the Republicans in the media. I watched Anderson Cooper interviewing my congressman, Matt Salmon, and Cooper was vicious in trying to put Republicans on the defensive. That spin will continue until the bitter end and beyond.
Breitbart did a study of media coverage of the looming shutdown during the preceding two weeks. Among the broadcast news networks, CBS, ABC, and NBC, they studied 39 stories. In 25 of those stories, blame was assigned. In those 25, 21 times the Republicans were blamed, both parties were blamed 4 times, and not one story blamed Democrats. So that is the important context in which public opinion needs to be placed. People have a strong tendency to let their opinions be guided by the media.
But the people simply aren’t buying the media spin. A Fox News national poll conducted after the shutdown began is reasonably split. While 25% of voters blame “Republican leaders such as John Boehner,” 24% blame President Obama, 17% blame “Tea Party Republicans such as Ted Cruz,” and 8% blame “Democratic leaders such as Harry Reid.” 20% think all of them are responsible. A Pew poll also shows a closely divided opinion, and the Pew article mentions that this is very different from the 1995 shutdown when the public blamed Republicans over Clinton by a 3 to 2 margin.
The 1995 shutdown turned out great for Republicans. They held their House majority and actually picked up 2 seats in the Senate, resisting the coattails of President Clinton in the 1996 election. With more favorable polling this time around, it presages even greater potential for election victories for Republicans in 2014.
Republicans need to hold firm in their constitutional responsibility as the House of Representatives. They are given the task of being an important check against an out-of-control executive – the power of the purse. The Constitution gives them the power to block funding of whatever they want to block. They are entirely within their rights to refuse to fund Obamacare, or, as they are doing now, to place conditions on any spending bill. Democrats did this during every government shutdown of the Reagan years, and Reagan negotiated with them. If Republicans can make this point, that this is how the system is supposed to work, I feel that they will win this. But I’m worried. John Boehner has this propensity to cave and how long he will hold firm remains a big question. If he can find a way out that will preserve his speakership, he will do it.
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