Wednesday night's votes in the Senate and House that ended the two-and-half-week-old government shutdown provoked lots of sighs of relief. However, it also exposed quite the large fissure within the Republican Party; in case you were wondering where the boundary line between GOP establishment and full-blown tea party is, the shutdown vote is possibly the clearest demonstration yet. (It also exposed no Democratic fissures whatsoever. Not a single Democratic member—Joe Manchin in the Senate, Jim Matheson or Mike McIntyre in the House, or anyone else—broke ranks on this one.)
If you’re sitting there thinking "Ah, who cares; haters gonna hate," assuming that all of the Republican "no" votes are located in super-gerrymandered districts and safely out-of-reach from vengeful Democrats or even agitated independents or GOP moderates, guess again. There were a number of Senators voting "no" from states that Barack Obama won in 2012, and also a number of House members facing tough general elections next year voted "no." Remember, these are people who voted not just to perpetuate an overwhelmingly-unpopular government shutdown, but who also voted unequivocally for the nation to default on its debt repayments: perhaps an asset in a primary in a dark-red district, but undoubtedly a liability in a general election in a swing state.
In the Senate, there were 18 "no" votes, mostly from the usual right-wing suspects (Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Tom Coburn, David Vitter), but also from some more establishment-flavored types worried about real or potential primary challenges from the right next year (Mike Enzi, Pat Roberts, John Cornyn). However, look at these five guys from blue states:
Ron Johnson (Wisconsin: 52.8% Obama in ’12) (up in 2016)Maybe these Senators are thinking that they won't be up for three years and the shutdown will be a distant memory by that point. But three of them are freshmen who'll be up for their first re-election while running into a buzzsaw, in the form of a presidential year with, in all likelihood, Hillary Clinton coattails. Toomey has made some occasional feints to the center, as with his gun legislation co-sponsored with Manchin, but as former president of the Club for Growth, he apparently couldn't resist the opportunity for fiscal hard-lining, and with that may have erased any centrist goodwill he previously accrued. Meanwhile, the more heedless Johnson has already racked-up one of the Senate's most conservative records and is just behaving in character. The question for Johnson in 2016 may not be whether he gets re-elected but whether he manages to lose by a narrower margin than Rick Santorum's epic 2006 loss.
Dean Heller (Nevada: 52.4% Obama) (up in
Chuck Grassley (Iowa: 52.0% Obama) (up in 2016)
Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania: 52.0% Obama) (up in 2016)
Marco Rubio (Florida: 49.9% Obama) (up in 2016)
One other consideration is the aspiring Senators, who are currently in the House and looking for a promotion. Among them, there was a split: Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and Steve Daines of Montana (who hasn't declared his candidacy, but is widely expected to do so soon) were "yes" votes. However, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and the Georgia trio (Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey, and Jack Kingston) were all "no" votes. Notice a correlation between how they voted? Capito, Cotton, and Daines are expected to have either no primary challenger, or only trivial ones. Cassidy, on the other hand, already has one tea party opponent and may get more, while obviously the Georgia trio all have to face each other. The "yes" votes only fear Democrats, while the "no" votes have to fear Republican base voters, which should tell you a lot about the optics of the shutdown inside and outside of the GOP primary bubble.
We’ll talk more about the House over the flip…
The total number of "no" votes among House Republicans was 144, compared with 87 "yes" votes (and one absence). If you're counting, that makes at least the fourth major violation of the Hastert rule (an unwritten rule allowing only bills with a support of the majority of the Republican caucus to appear on the floor).
In general, the vote was a pretty clear split between the establishment and far-right wings of the House GOP. If you want to see this in graphic form, look at the graphic from GovTrack at the top of the story; the array of dots represents the members of the House arranged from left to right in terms of ideology, and, as you'll notice, the "yes" votes come mostly from the half of the GOP caucus that's further to the left. Another way to look at it, graphically, comes from the VoteView blog of poli sci professor Keith Poole, creator of the DW-Nominate vote aggregation system. Again, you can see how most of the Republicans who voted "yes" pile up at the left end of the GOP caucus, while the "no" votes are mostly to the right of the caucus's cutline.
The one outlier is Jeff Denham, who represents CA-10, centered in Modesto and which gave Obama 50.6% of the 2012 vote. Denham already has a credible Democratic challenger in the form of Michael Eggman, so it's not as if Denham feels he can coast in 2014 either. Beyond Denham, the next six most competitive districts (based on presidential numbers) with "no" votes are VA-04 (Randy Forbes), NY-23 (Tom Reed), OH-10 (Mike Turner), MI-07 (Tim Walberg), NJ-05 (Scott Garrett), and WI-07 (Sean Duffy), all of which clocked in around 48% Obama last year.
Maybe, out of perverse curiosity, you're wondering who the "yes" votes in the most solidly Republican districts were, eager to see who's at risk in a primary, not a general election. Those members would be Ed Whitfield in KY-01, Steve Womack in AR-03, Adrian Smith in NE-03, the retiring Spencer Bachus in AL-06 … and most endangered of all, Hal Rogers in KY-05 (23% Obama, in the deepest corner of Appalachia), who also happens to be Appropriations Committee chair and a man whose pork will only get pried out of his cold dead hand.
If you're wondering about the most competitive districts not in terms of presidential numbers but rather who had the closest races in 2012, we've got that too. And the "no" voter who fared the worst is none other than Michele Bachmann, who had the third closest race of 2012 in MN-06, although she doesn't really count because she’s read the writing on the wall and has already retired. (The two even-closer victims, Rodney Davis in IL-13 and Dan Benishek in MI-01, both voted "yes.") Bachmann is followed by Jackie Walorski in IN-02, Chris Collins in NY-27, Keith Rothfus in PA-12, and Tom Reed in NY-23 (who, if you look two paragraphs above, gets a double-whammy, in that he also had the third least-red district in 2012).
Another way of breaking down the votes is by what region the Republican votes came from. The ranks of the "no" voters are swelled by southerners, though it's worth noting that the majority of the most conservative members of the House GOP caucus are already from the south while its most moderate members tend to be from the northeast. (For more insight on the unique southern-ness of the tea party mentality—a descendant of traditions going back to Andrew Jackson and, more ominously, John Calhoun—Michael Lind has written a number of interesting articles at Salon about this.)
YESEven slicing and dicing by region doesn't tell the whole story, though; for instance, when you say "south," that covers a wide variety of subregions and demographics. Many of the "yes" votes in the south come from its most urbane parts, such as Virginia and Florida, which tend to be more affluent and diverse and function somewhat as extensions of the northeast, while the "no" votes are more rural and downscale. (There are, of course, lots of exceptions: all four members from Arkansas voted "yes," while the members from Atlanta's upscale suburbs, even the ones not running for Senate, all voted "no.") Similarly, when talking about the Midwest, there's a big difference between the votes in Chicago's suburbs versus those in rural Missouri.
If you look at the disparities between those locations, you'll notice that much of it tends to be about class. Along those lines, Richard Florida just published a fantastic look at the relationship between the debt limit deniers and the demographics of their districts, in Atlantic Cities. This piece relied on the 79 signers of the Meadows letter (a declaration of principles that established what Ryan Lizza called "the suicide caucus"), rather than Wednesday night's vote, although the overlap between the signatories and Wednesday's "no" votes is pretty thorough. He finds a reasonably strong correlation between the tea party members in Congress, and lower wages (-.30), lower incomes (-.33), and lower percentages of college graduates (-.36). Their districts have lower percentages of immigrants and LGBT populations, lower urbanization, and more uninsured persons. In terms of occupation, these tend to be the parts of the country with the fewest "creative class" members. As Florida puts it:
The Tea Party represents the lagging sectors of the economy, and, increasingly, the politics of those left behind by America's transition to a new, knowledge-oriented economic future.In other words, these are the parts of the country that are on the losing end of the changes in the nation's economy. Think back to the Democracy Corps focus groups that were discussed several weeks ago, where tea partiers were revealed as rife with fear over the country's increasing diversity and evolution toward a more knowledge-based economy, which they sensed as stripping away what remains of their accustomed privileges and pushing them toward the margins. That same worldview has also been thoroughly studied and described by political scientist Theda Skocpol; her recent interview with Salon, worth a read in full, elaborates further.
The representatives in these districts are, in fact, taking their cues from their constituents. They're hoping to stand athwart history and yell "stop," even if means the extreme step of imploding the entire country's economy in order to protect the lives they think they once had and their own dwindling slice of the pie.