Sunday, September 13, 2015

Gov't Shutdown: The Come At Me Bro Caucus

We are nearing our semi-annual government shutdown--the National Parks are all decked out for a few days of unpaid closure, stores are getting ready. Non-essential public servants are makin' their stay-cation plans (with gas at a current low, it's a good time to get some driving travel in with the family). The Omnivore is planning his regular Shutdown BBQ--last gasp of Summer!!

What's Going On?

Ostensibly the conservative caucus (the Freedom Caucus) and social conservatives are preparing for a man-the-ramparts, damn-the-torpedoes stand against Planned Parenthood after videos showing them selling baby parts surfaced. In reality, this is complicated by:

  1. The truth of the videos is contested and the unedited ones are quite long and may actually show people talking about fetal-tissue donation ... or something.
  2. While the GOP has always wanted to end Planned Parenthood, the impending presidential election and, especially, the desperation of the many, many low-polling candidates gives rise to an instinct towards grand-standing and general me-first politicking. 
  3. Notably Ted Cruz has personal problems with Speaker John Boehner--making unity even more fraught. Also: as everyone tries to claim some stake in the shutdown, it puts allies at odds with each other (remember: Ted Cruz flew in to Kentucky to get some Kim Davis cred and was literally strong-arm-blocked by a Huckabee security guy from getting on stage! These guys really don't want to share).
  4. Government shutdowns are pretty unpopular in general and the GOP, despite the narrative that the shutdowns helped in 2014, has gotten the worst of them. The GOP Establishment has already come out and said they don't want--and won't have--a shutdown.

That Said . . .

There are a few points we should consider before just saying we've been over all this before.

And, Well . . . 

There is also the problem that recently conservatives lost on the Iran deal (it's still being fought, of course--nothing ever ends) and are going to have problems with a few other points of contention (the highway bill?). The urge to just have the freakin' fight--to have the GOP Establishment take a stand and set the controls for the heart of the sun--is pretty strong right now. It's a big part, says The Omnivore, of what's driving Trump in the polls.

It was a big part of Walker's appeal when it looked like his major asset was that he gave liberals fits.

Mulvaney didn’t dispute the conventional wisdom that Republicans would lose the spin game of a shutdown over Planned Parenthood. But his argument in favor of trying anyway was revealing. The conservative base put Republicans in charge of Congress, and it is the constituency to which the leadership needs to be accountable. And what about the rest of the country? That’s the wrong audience, Mulvaney suggested. “My leadership is trying to appeal to independent and swing voters who don’t care what we do right now and won’t until two or three months before the election,” he told me. The base is paying attention now, in other words. Everyone else will forget about it come election time.

What Does This Look Like?

What has to happen for the shutdown to be successful is the following:
  • It must look like there is a chance going into it that Obama will blink. If Obama looks solid, the morale issue will be lost and the establishment will mount, at best, a token attempt.
  • It must appear that Obama / Congressional Democrats are the ones pushing a fight. If the Republicans look like they are hostage-taking, they'll lose credibility at the outset.
  • The GOP has to more or less unite--and quickly. If there is discord and jockeying between presidential aspirants and the congressional leadership vs. the base/caucus, the whole thing will collapse prematurely.

So Will It Happen?

Congress Doomsday Clock Setter Stan Collender puts the shutdown likelihood at 67% following the Iran Deal passing but Bloomberg analyzes that we might get a shutdown of a day or two at most (to satisfy the base?) as the leadership isn't behind it. While these are reasonably smart-money bets, The Omnivore is skeptical. The reason The Omnivore is skeptical is because right now we're seeing the actual GOP Civil War play out in real time: Trump's ascendancy is directly tied to the perception that the GOP never wins and that conservatives feel humiliated.

Granting Obama / Democrats a string of victories will push voters towards Trump (or, perhaps Cruz--also unacceptable to the establishment) even if they don't have a better hand. In other words: the downside for "losing a shutdown" could be "losing the party" instead of just "losing the White House."

With that balancing the scales, it's possible to see a strategy where the GOP thinks it's better to tank with its command structure in place rather than just hand everything over to the insurgents. Of course this won't be a rational choice / A-Game: the results of pursuing a doomed strategy (and that's assuming it's doomed--it might not be) would be catastrophic: it's just that the alternatives might be worse.

Consider that the Iran Deal was, really, a foregone conclusion for several months. The GOP-E couldn't actually stop Obama from making an "agreement" with Iran so they did the next-best-thing: they arranged for a vote on it which Obama could veto. This, the thinking went, would help cement Obama's power--but at least give Congress a public say on things. Maybe they could shame Obama into backing out?

That didn't happen--in fact, it backfired: Obama got more support than anticipated and their vote of disapproval didn't even make it to Obama's desk. This wasn't just a loss--but a humiliating one (?).

So now Boehner is threatening to sue Obama. Why? Well, he freakin' has to do something. This is pure theater--but given the loss of face and the general atmosphere, Boehner knows he can't let the Iran Deal go. Even his more moderate constituency won't put up with that. They have to keep litigating this until at least Jan 1 2017.

So Where Does This End?

Dr. Manhattan -- On The Benghazi Investigations
The Omnivore thinks that while the general rules of politics may not be totally broken (Trump is still a longshot to win the nomination, no matter what he polls at in August September) the GOP right now is in a degree of chaos. Their equilibrium of an enraged base with nowhere-else-to-go has been punctured by a few out-of-control presidential candidates and now the waste-heat anger is becoming actual kinetic behavior (Trump soaring, Carson surging, Jeb crashing). In this environment, The Omnivore thinks that a shutdown is very likely--and maybe a long one. 

We'll see. 

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