With the breathless coverage of cable news countdown clocks and breaking news push alerts, the potential government shutdown looms large. A shutdown would show a breakdown of Washington’s ability to complete the basic actions of governance and furlough hundreds of thousands of federal employees. But would it have any political consequences?
Recent history would imply perhaps not. In 2013 Republicans in Congress led a government shutdown, their actions covered in the same apocalyptic tones. In a series of polls, the GOP received the plurality of blame. That year businessman and reality show host Donald Trump said on Fox News that any shutdown would be the fault of the man at the top — in that case, President Barack Obama. The next year, Republicans, far from paying a price for their stance, won back control of the Senate and expanded their margins in the House.
But this time could be different. Republicans control the White House, the Senate and the House, as opposed to the split government of 2013. And while President Trump campaigned on his ability to make deals, he spent much of the week struggling to hammer out terms with members of his own party. With swaths of unfilled positions that impair the federal government’s effectiveness even when it’s operating, a shutdown would do nothing to convince Americans that the GOP can actually govern.
Also potentially hurting Republicans is that one of the key sticking points for Democrats on a deal is extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, protecting “Dreamers” who were brought to the country illegally as children. Eighty-seven percent of respondents in a CBS News poll earlier this month said they favored allowing the young immigrants to remain in the country.
“To believe that you can successfully blame Democrats for a shutdown over the DACA debate is naive,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
And if you look at polls, the margins are far wider than in 2013. By a margin of 20 points Americans blame Trump and Republicans for the impending shutdown more than they do Democrats, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Friday. And midterm elections will take place in just over nine months, leaving less time than in 2013 for the party that gets the blame to make up the difference. With the GOP lagging far behind on a generic congressional ballot and with dozens of incumbents opting for retirement, the last thing Republicans need is to be tagged with responsibility for closing most federal agencies and the Smithsonian museums and limiting services at and access to national parks.
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