The GOP’s spiral into political irrelevance continued Friday, as a provision in the House spending bill that defunded Obamacare died a quick death in the Senate and the battle to avoid a government shutdown escalates. The Senate passed the crucial bill, which would keep the government running, after stripping out language from the House defunding the Affordable Care Act.
Before the vote, in a 21-hour non-filibuster diatribe on the Senate floor, Senator Ted Cruz tried to rally fellow Senate Republicans into blocking the vote. Ironically, the House bill was everything Cruz wanted, but he feared Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would use the procedure to cut the defunding of Obamacare from the Senate version. In Friday’s vote, that’s exactly what happened.
25 GOP Senators voted against Cruz and his 18 compatriots, delivering a stinging rebuke to the freshman Senator’s attempts to lead his fellow Republicans. Leading GOP Senators such as John McCain, Mitch McConnell, and Bob Corker all spoke publicly on their bewilderment and even anger towards Senator Cruz. Friday’s vote exposes a devastating fracture in the Republican party.
Senator McCain, appearing Friday on “CBS This Morning,” offered a blunt assessment of his party’s blunders, saying “we are dividing the Republican Party rather than attacking Democrats.”
It seems that every new battle in the GOP’s political war over whether to shut down the government escalates the party’s political death spiral, a decline that looks increasingly likely to leave the Republican party fractured, isolated, and weak.
The larger Republican strategy of obstruction against President Obama has fired up their base, yielding dividends in some congressional elections as well as increased campaign contributions across the country. However, the current extreme expression of that tactic highlights the party’s internal division more every day. The longer the current fight drags on, the more the gulf between the two Republican factions seems to grow.
On the one side stand statesmen like McCain, who seem determined to keep governing, even while working against the President’s policies. On the other side stand Ted Cruz and his allies, for whom the actual business of running the American government takes a backseat to opposing Obama. The first faction seems more concerned with the opinions of the larger American electorate, who overwhelmingly oppose a government shutdown, while the second focuses specifically on pleasing members of their ideologically extreme base—centered around the Tea Party—whose donations and votes were crucial to their elections.
Even voices on the extreme right wing of American politics are sounding the alarm. An editorial by Joseph Cotto of the Washington Times, a partisan Conservative publication, warns that “what has come out of the GOP lately might be described as the John Birch Society meeting Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority at a Libertarian Party conference. ‘Far out’ doesn’t even begin to describe it.”
Though consistent negative messaging has succeeded in eroding the popularity of the Affordable Care Act, even less popular is the notion of shutting down the government to stop it. 80% of Americans oppose the shutdown. Yet Senators like Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul are all fighting to keep that possibility on the table, as a means of opposing President Obama’s signature policy achievement. Speaker of the House John Boehner finds himself in a tight corner, as his strategies for avoiding a shutdown are consistently blocked by the right wing of his own party.
Democrats, for the most part, seem content to watch the Republicans immolate themselves. Remembering how a previous government shutdown in 1996 likely cost Republican Bob Dole the presidential election, Democrats in congress have elected to keep their distance, letting the GOP take the heat for courting a shutdown and not throwing them any kind of lifeboat.
On Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that “internal Republican party politics, while absolutely the most fascinating political story in Washington right now, and something I would be choosing to focus on if I were still a reporter, are not something we are choosing to spend a lot of time right now.”
President Obama himself was blunt, but retained his distance as well, in his response to news of the Senate vote on Friday. He urged Republicans to simply “knock it off, pass a budget and move on. Let’s get this done.”
But it is hard to imagine that Democrats really want the GOP to completely “knock it off.” Republicans taking the blame for an unpopular shutdown works to their advantage, and they hope to reap the electoral benefits in 2014 and even 2016.
Thus far, GOP leaders have not found a way to heal the rift in their party. In fact, it seems to be worsening. The GOP death spiral continues to escalate, and shows no signs of slowing down.
Written By: Jeremy Forbing