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Chances are that before midnight tonight, House Republicans will shut down the government. Let the novena of needless cable speculation begin:  How will it all end? Who will get the blame?

In this case, the speculation is especially needless because we know how it will end. We've seen this movie before.  Well, some of us have.  Apparently, the Tea Party wing of the GOP missed that epic, "The Winter of '95," when the wind chill factor greeting the last Republican shutdown was fifty degrees below zero on the Gallup scale. Republicans retreated like Napoleon out of Russia, and they will again.  Here's why:

A Bit of History

Republicans rode into 1995 on the zephyr of a historic election victory. The Health Insurance Industry's front-family, Harry and Louise, had strangled Bill Clinton's Health Care Reform plan in its crib -- it never even made it out of committee, and voters punished the Democrats for it.

The GOP now held majorities in both House and Senate. Clinton himself was a wounded gazelle. Newt Gingrich and his pride of 73 zealous, hungry House Republican freshmen circled, and crouched.

Then, when Clinton refused to meet their demands for budget cuts, they sprang for the kill: they shut down the government, confident that the spineless "Slick Willie" would cave in to their demands, and that Americans would embrace their bold takedown.

But a funny thing happened on the way to hubris: no one caved, and few embraced. Clinton calmly declared that he was willing to compromise, but that he wouldn't be extorted into accepting drastic cuts in education, Medicare and other important programs.

Americans could only watch in dismay as the "non-essential" services of the U.S. government ended. Families who had planned a trip to a national park cancelled it. Businessmen who needed their passports renewed were grounded. Some people who needed a pension or public assistance check stared at their empty mailboxes, and so on.

Unexpectedly, Republicans found that the sheer size of the federal government was against them. Three hundred thousand federal workers were furloughed and another 480,000 "essential" workers were forced to work without pay. This army of the suddenly unemployed was spread throughout every city and state in the country.

These 3/4 of a million people, it turned out, had friends, neighbors and family members who cared about them. Even people who didn't know any federal employees were themselves emerging from a steep recession and could feel the pain of people who lost their jobs because government leaders refused to be adults and compromise.

As the shutdown began, polls showed that, unsurprisingly, voters blamed the party that had refused to fund, and thus shut down the government, not the guy who begged them not to shut it down, and then beseeched them to open it up (49%-26%).

Gingrich's own disapproval rating leapt like a non-wounded gazelle, by 20 points. Then Bob Dole and other moderates in the Senate abandoned the sinking ship of the shutdown and voted to open the government. Privately, Gingrich admitted to Clinton Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, "We've made a mistake. Our strategy isn't working."

In the end, without concessions from Clinton, and despite the fury of the freshmen zealots, House moderates recanted and put the "Open" sign back in the door.

Later that year, the once-wounded gazelle won re-election by a landslide and then, to furious applause, demanded in his State of the Union speech that Republicans "Never, ever shut the federal government down again."

So, Why? Here's Where It Gets Interesting

So, given this discouraging history, why are House Republicans tilting their lances at the same windmill that so soundly thrashed them eighteen years ago?

The Tea Party members who pushed for the shutdown -- about a third of the Republican caucus -- aren't worried about voter backlash. They tend to come from districts in the deep woods of the Deep South that are safe for far-right Republicans.

But many of their Republican colleagues were swept into office from competitive or even Democratic-leaning districts by the voter anger of 2010. They tend moderate, and they have reason to fear voter backlash.

As one measure of their precarious position, 27 House Republicans come from Districts where Obama carried 48% or more of the vote in 2012.  In thirteen of their districts, Obama carried more than 50% of the vote.

Why would these vulnerable Rebublicans join this Children's Crusade against a fait accompli?  Eight words: Americans for Prosperity, Heritage Action, Club for Growth.  These are the richer than God interest groups ready to rain down brimstone on Republicans who fail to toe their line.  Their four-word mantra strikes terror in the heart of every House Republican: "WE WILL PRIMARY YOU!"  That is, they will run a more conservative candidate against you in a Republican primary election, where conservative voters are disproportionately represented.

Of course, kow-towing to extremism makes these vulnerable Republicans even more vulnerable in general elections, where they have to carry moderate Republicans and some independents to win.  Here, they're an extremist running against a moderate in a moderate district.

They are, in short, damned if they do and damned if they don't.  In this round, Big Money seems to have convinced Republicans that getting primaried next spring is the clear and present danger.

That sense will last until "Winter of '95 II: Revenge of the Tea Party" debuts later today, and all of the above history plays out again.  At that point, the GOP may recall Santayana: "Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it."

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Comment Preferences

  •  CNN crawler: moderate R's brewing a revolt (8+ / 0-)

    of some kind against the latest GOP House vote. "Sources say."  As of 6:45pm eastern time.

    Could be an interesting night, news wise.  Or not.

  •  That Was a Presidential Election Year When (4+ / 0-)

    moderates turn out in max numbers.

    The next election is over a year away, and it's a midterm, where energizing the extreme base is more important. And that makes extremism in the primary more important as well because more of the extremists can get elected in a midterm.

    They're not repeating themselves, at minimum they've gotten the timing right today.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 03:50:23 PM PDT

    •  even 1996 was not a debacle for them (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ahumbleopinion, exNYinTX, scott5js

      they retained control of the House. Their majority continued to erode during 1998 and 2000, but then 9/11 allowed them to regain a huge majority.

      In the meantime they impeached Bill Clinton and made his second term a grueling gauntlet. In the end, they did not lose the House until 2006, and then only for four years.

      For the purposes of Republican obstruction, a one-vote majority is just as good as a twenty-vote majority. The smaller their majority gets, the more unified and extreme they become in response.

      All they need to do is hang on by their fingernails until the political winds change and allow them to sweep back into power. They're extremely tenacious. Like bathroom mildew, you can scrub away most of it, but if you neglect that last little bit for just a couple weeks it comes back with a vengeance.

      "In America, the law is king." --Thomas Paine

      by limpidglass on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 04:07:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Gooserock - I think your analysis is correct (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      All the GOP is concerned about is winning the House in 2014 so they can obstruct the President through the end of his second term. The next election for POTUS is too far away to worry about. The Tea Party is the energy of the GOP base and shutting down the government makes them happy. Meat to the lions.

      "let's talk about that"

      by VClib on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 04:28:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  They can all go to the devil nt (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffW, Redfire

    nosotros no somos estúpidos

    by a2nite on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 03:55:55 PM PDT

  •  The Tea Party can only exist if they eat their own (4+ / 0-)

    Cruz, Lee, and all the other Tea Party narcissists know they are screwing their party over and that's just fine by them. They'll gladly tank their party to keep their own asses in Washington. In fact, their success is predicated on the destruction of the GOP, not the Democrats. If the Tea Party begins to compromise with moderates Republicans, they can kiss their asses goodbye.

    "Education and literacy remain the greatest threats to conservative rule, whereas religion remains its most potent and complicit ally" - J. Newman

    by macleme on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 04:00:56 PM PDT

  •  Damn! You ruined the ending for me... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Denver11, sfbob

    A mind like a book, has to be open to function properly.

    by falconer520 on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 04:02:53 PM PDT

  •  Since a "Victory" for the good guys (5+ / 0-)

    means the Sequester numbers become even more institutional, I don't see how we can say they lose in any way, shape, or form. They lose the 24 hour news cycle. Maybe weeks of them. Millions of us are in real pain. They get bad PR, we get real pain. It's a question of how bad the rest of us lose. Catastrophically, or merely painfully.

    Pointing out that the GOP is crazy and we aren't is not a winning tactic in low-information voter America. And yet, here we are again, going into 2014 with a terrorist hostage crisis still not being bad enough for Movement Conservatism itself to be attacked by the non-Conservative party. This is an ideological struggle that you can't fight by trying to seem more reasonable than the crazies.

    Each and every time Conservatism escapes from a conservatism induced crisis 100% intact and viable, we just are moving on to the next crisis.

    The common thread to all of the great crisis points triggered by the GOP since the rise of the Reagan Revolution is that conservatism never gets blamed.

    We blame the syringe instead of the heroin, and wonder why the heroin never gets a bad rap.

    Since 'Conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed' the GOPers who become the most hated faces of their party can be replaced by new crazies the media talks up naively and hopefully as 'unknowns' and we are back to the next hostage-taking.

    I can't get bucked up by polls that say the GOP is being blamed more than the rest. I've been here too many times before. THIS is going to be the fuck-up that really puts a hurting on the GOP.

    Right up until it isn't.

    The syringe is getting the blame, not the heroin in it.


    Then the Village sells the lie that everybody is to blame, and the idea that government doesn't work gets even more cured into the national cement.

    I understand that being labeled a partisan or being accused of being ideological is the worst thing ever, ever, ever... but where has compare and contrast got us? We keep ending up with more and more terrorist acts and increasingly more unhinged Republicans while we are so sure that, this time, they are so so fucked for their overreach and extremism.

    The House GOP is going to go right from this crisis directly to threatening to default, probably bolstered and emboldened by their own circlejerks of attaboys.

    We live in an America where far too many people, especially people in need, are getting used to the idea of government being crippled and impotent and their being screwed.

    The Movement Conservative Right has normalized political terrorism as a part of doing business.

    We have to take on the role that conservatism itself plays in these man-made crisis points. It's time to stop blaming the disposable syringes the poison is delivered by. The Right can always get more, and sharper, and bigger needles to deliver their poison.


    I am a Loco-Foco. I am from the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party.

    by LeftHandedMan on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 04:16:21 PM PDT

  •  The only problem that I see (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ahumbleopinion, Kevskos

    is that the Republican House members responsible for this fiasco now inhabit a sort of grotesque cartoon, relatively impervious to reality.  So although people may be screaming around them, that reality doesn't penetrate the cartoon membrane.  They continue to see only the inner walls of the cartoon they imagine to be the real world.

    Even the Republicans in 1995 acknowledged reality. These guys, I'm not so sure.

  •  Yes, article in new Business Week (0+ / 0-)

    It focuses on Jim DeMint of the Heritage Foundation. Heritage Action has been having its own town meetings.

    Censorship is rogue government.

    by scott5js on Mon Sep 30, 2013 at 07:13:43 PM PDT

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