Conservatives are still fighting to shut down the government over the Affordable Care Act, passing on Friday a budget resolution that would cut all funding for Obama’s signature health-care law.
This despite the fact that—in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s words—any bill that defunds Obamacare is “dead” in his chamber. Bowing to right-wing demands, however, House Speaker John Boehner says he expects his Senate colleagues “to do everything they can to stop this law,” while Texas Senator Ted Cruz hassignaled his willingness to stage a “talking filibuster” to block any government spending bill that funds the president’s health-care law.
But it’s an easy step for Cruz to take. Neither he nor his supporters will face the political damage that comes with provoking a government shutdown. Instead, it’s his opponents—the more mainstream members of the Republican Party—who are certain to bear the brunt of the damage. And that fact means we should expect even more shenanigans from the nihilist wing of the GOP.
Yes, the public isn’t thrilled with Republicans—a 44 percent plurality holds an either “somewhat negative” or “very negative” view of the party, according to the latest survey from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal—and yes, a majority of Americans have already said they would blame the GOP in the event of a shutdown. But for the most conservative members of the House, this is irrelevant. “All that really matters is what my district wants,” said Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky in a comment to the Washington Post. “And my district is overwhelmingly in favor of my position.”
The public might hate Tea Party politicians and their budgetary brinksmanship, but next year, when the House of Representatives is up for reelection, the most absolutist Republicans—the Louie Gohmerts of the world—are almost certain to keep their seats. After all, they represent voters who want a showdown with Obama, and—likewise—would rather crash the economy then raise the debt limit.
The same isn’t true of members like Mike Coffman of Colorado, who has stayed away from the shutdown effort. They represent more moderate voters (his district is only slightly Republican) who value compromise and constructive action. But they lack elbow room in the GOP. If they buck the right too much, they risk a conservative opponent in the primary. But also can’t sign on to every conservative crusade; sooner or later, they’ll face a strong Democratic challenger.
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