Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Day 8: Fault Lines

Government Shutdowns Have Halloween Colors
For shutdown watchers the question is always: where is the first crack? The presumption is that we'll see something--a glimmer--a rumor--which will in fact be the element that breaks one parties or the other's backs and ends this, preferably in a total blaze of drama.

Since everyone was so good at predicting the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Lehman Brothers: good luck with that.

Still, while we're here ...

Canaries In Coal Mines
The point of contact for all of this drama is the still-a-year-off 2014 mid-term elections. Even some of the most frothing pundits don't think that the electorate's memories are going to be that long. But let's look at the few races today where there is some impact.
Poling Slides?
Some people were breathlessly predicting a rout in the polls and that hasn't quite happened but the movement seems to be in the direction one would reasonably expect: the GOP is soaking up much of the blame. The Congressional Dems get their share--the President ain't doing great--but he isn't suffering that much comparatively either.

Electoral predictor Dr. Sam Wang looks at a recent PPP poll and suggests: if the election were held today the Dems would pick up an astounding 30 seats--a massive wave election. They need 17 to win back the House. To be sure, PPP is widely sneered at in conservative circles, is paid for by Democratic allies, and has some questionable practices--but they were bang on last election and, as Wang points out pretty much even the worst "house drift" is 3%.
Note that in these calculations I did not even include the worst of the news for Republicans. In a followup series of questions, PPP then told respondents that their representative voted for the shutdown. At that point, the average swing moved a further 3.1% toward Democrats, and 22 out of 24 points were in the gray zone. That would be more like a 50-seat gain for Democrats – equivalent to a wave election.
On the other hand, with just this one poll factored for, the rest of the picture?
No Way Out?
There are a number of possible scenarios for "how this ends." There's the kick it another few weeks scenario which just draws everything out. There's the pass-a-clean-CR-and-agree-to-committee deal which might give Boehner enough to go home with (but it won't: conservatives won't buy anything Obama would possibly sign and everyone knows it).

Indeed, with no clear way out and Obama's reluctance to negotiate some people think this might be the death-throws of the Republicans as a national, unified party. Indeed, they are already moving towards a localized set of stronghold states and seem to be only tacitly trying to expand their constituency. Boehner says that the 'Democrats are trying to annihilate us' -- and while this is almost entirely a self-inflicted wound (or maybe more accurately friendly fire from the far-right called in by Ted Cruz) -- if Boehner doesn't get something out of this (and it's not clear what that could possibly be) it's hard to see how the current unity that exists under this pressure holds together.

I want to note that Obama has been uncharacteristically visible during this time--one possibility is that he has learned his lesson about standing off to the side--but I have another theory. One of the reasons Obama has traditionally held back personally is because he knows his presence is absolutely toxic to the right-wing base. He knows if he is involved potentially friendly forces (although this has not historically panned out) won't be able to make a deal because he's part of the conversation.

I think that same realization is actually driving him here: he must be visible because, at the bottom of things, he is the problem. He's the ultimate target of the sentiment: Obamacare, the shutdown, and even the debt ceiling are just the strategy and tactics of getting him there. He has to be visible and engaged because underneath it all, that's what this battle is about.

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