By any reckoning the Republican Party gained nothing during the nearly three weeks of Washington’s budget and deficit ceiling stand-off except an extraordinary plunge in its approval ratings in opinion polls. The great unknown today however is: will it take stock and change its posture going forward?
“Hopefully, the lesson is to stop this foolish childishness,” John McCain, the Senator from Arizona, said yesterday. His frustration was directed not just at the conservative wing of the House but also at a few colleagues closer to him, notably Senator Ted Cruz, the Tea Party senator from Texas, whose idea it was to try to use the budget and debt ceiling showdown to gut President Barack Obama’s healthcare law.
With Standard & Poor’s estimating that the shenanigans since 1 October have taken $24 billion out of the US economy, it seems clear that it is the Republicans that most Americans will blame. The Party surely also managed to distract the country from what should have been a terrible period for President Obama thanks to horrible glitches in the web site that is meant to give uninsured Americans access to healthcare.
So the brand could do with some repairing. “Is there short-term damage? Yes,” Representative Charlie Dent, a Pennsylvania Republican, commented. “Is there long-term damage? We’ll see.”
Republican leaders at least have some cushion between now and next November when midterm elections will be held and control of both houses of Congress will be up for grabs. Yesterday’s deal is only a reprieve and the Party will have the chance to take a more moderate approach as a bi-partisan panel gets to work shortly on trying to resolve the wider fiscal issues facing the country. If it wants to. Or, if it can.
Mr Cruz, whose hometown paper, the Houston Chronicle, this week reversed the endorsement it gave him when he ran for election last year, was defiant when the package was passed on the Senate floor and so were many seemingly unbowed conservatives in the House. If some like Mr McCain are now urging moderation, it isn’t clear all will listen and the risk may be greater than ever of the Party breaking in two.
“I think that the Republican Party has evolved into two groups: the old time establishment - highly-paid consultants who say that this is the way things are, and the way things should be, and they are not nearly in touch with our evolving constituency out there,” Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, a conservative, insisted, speaking of Mr McCain and others. “The politicians up here who have been holding strong are people who are nearest to the people. More recently elected, not part of the media, glass-bubble echo chamber.”