When Republican insiders began to fret that there was a chance they could lose their majority earlier this summer, they were afraid their party would descend into chaos over the fall.
They got something worse: an incredibly weak Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) wound up being rolled over by Ted Cruz and his Suicide Caucus friends in the House of Representatives into a 16-day government shutdown that ended with the Tea Party’s demands being completely rejected.
Of course, the GOP should not be worrying about losing its majority. Historically, the party out of power nearly always loses seats during a president’s sixth year in office and the GOP’s embrace of austerity has kept any recovery tepid at best. Republicans believed for a few months that the IRS and Benghazi “scandals” would destroy President Obama, but then became distracted by the doomed campaign to defund the Affordable Care Act.
There’s really only one reason Republicans could now actually lose the House — the government shutdown.
All of the reasons that follow are the result of the decision of the House Republicans — led by Cruz and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) — to shutter the government and demand concessions to reopen it and raise the debt limit. This decision, and the rift it exacerbated between the GOP establishment and the Tea Party. Republican leaders are having a difficult time recognizing that the Tea Party now represents the majority of GOP primary voters, and the Tea Party is refusing to reconcile its limited power with its demands to stop Obamacare now.
As a result, House Republicans are now in big trouble.
Here are five reasons why a Democratic takeover of the House is now more likely — thanks to the government shutdown.
The Shutdown Changed The Math
Given the GOP-tilted nature of the congressional map and the dynamics of midterm turnout, we have always maintained that House Republicans would need to engage in some spectacularly self-destructive behavior in order for Democrats to have any shot at netting 17 seats and a majority next November.
Over the 16-day course of the government shutdown, House Republicans flirted with just that. Republicans’ detour into what some have described as a defund-at-all-costs “cul de sac” has turned a negative spotlight on the party to an extent no Democratic ad could ever achieve.
The respected election forecaster has changed its ratings on 15 House races to the Democrats’ advantage since the shutdown ended.
“The GOP’s brand has been awful for years, and sustained more damage this month,” Wasserman pointed out. But the problem isn’t just with the Republican brand now. “It’s that the shutdown forced voters to actually focus on the House GOP as ‘the problem’ in DC, something Democrats simply could not do amid the noise of the 2012 presidential election.”
Cook calculates Republicans would need to lose the popular vote by 6.8 percent in order to lose the House. As you can see from the Pollster average of the generic congressional ballot above, Democrats are currently close to the margin of error on that kind of victory. Of course we are still a year out, but the math isn’t the only factor working against the GOP.
Big Donors Are Losing Faith
“Why do I want to fuel a fire that’s going to consume us?” Fred Zeidman — a prolific fundraiser for both Mitt Romney and George W. Bush — asked Politico.
The Texas oilman is frustrated that Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus has been supportive of Cruz as the senator led the effort to make funding the government dependent on defunding Obamacare. Funders are disappointed at the shortsightedness of House Republicans not only about the shutdown, but also immigration reform, which many donors see as key to winning the White House in 2016. That’s why passing reform was the only policy recommendation in the GOP’s 2012 “autopsy” report.
Republican dreams of taking back the Senate are not being interrupted with the nightmare of losing the House.
Priebus is now facing what his predecessor Michael Steele had to deal with in 2010, the prospect of a splinter group of funders uncomfortable with party leadership breaking off to form their own efforts. That worked in 2010 when the economy was near its nadir and Democrats had a huge majority to defend, but it’s the last thing Priebus wants for 2014.
The dissidents who supported Cruz’s insurgency have seen a decline in fundraising — but Koch Industries and the group Citizens United made donations to members of the Suicide Caucus right as the shutdown began.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr
Democrats Are Recruiting Better Candidates And Raising More Money
Cook Political Report‘s Wasserman believes Democrats need to have about 40 top candidate recruits in order to win the 17 seats they need to take back the House.
He believes that Democrats currently have about two dozen of those recruits.
“I think we’ll get it into the range of 40,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) chair Steve Israel told the Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent. “I don’t accept that we’re at 20-25 top recruits. I would put it right now in the mid-30s.”
There’s no doubt that the shutdown has had a remarkable effect on the DCCC’s recruitment.
Omaha City Councilor Pete Festersen had declined to run against GOP Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE). Festersen is now in. Israel believes he has strong candidates to face vulnerable congressmembers Rep. Tim Griffin (R-AR) and Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA). Wayne State Law School Dean Jocelyn Benson may run for the seat of reindeer farmer Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI), who is already facing a primary challenge. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), who represents a district President Obama won, may face his first serious challenger in years.
Locking in these solid candidates now when there is still plenty of time to fundraise and organize ensures Democrats can make the most of the GOP’s shutdown fiasco. Add this to the DCCC’s record fundraising haul in September and the fundamentals to launch a serious attempt to take back the House are in place.
Photo: Talk Radio News Service via Flickr
The GOP Civil War Is Expanding
The Senate Conservatives Fund — one of the chief proponents of Cruz’s shutdown strategy — announced on Friday that it had endorsed Matt Bevin, the Tea Partier opposing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in the GOP primary. The group is also backing Chris McDaniel, a Tea Party challenger to Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS). This echoes a call from Sarah Palin and other Tea Party groups who have suggested they would support primary challenges of Republican members of congress.
But donors aren’t just trying to push the GOP to the right by supporting primary challengers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce — the right-leaning group that supported the deal to open the government and raise the debt limit — is expressing its frustration with the Tea Party’s brinksmanship.
“The need is now more than ever to elect people who understand the free market and not silliness,” Scott Reed, the group’s senior political strategist, said recently.
Tea Partiers winning primary challenges against more electable Republicans is the number-one reason the GOP doesn’t hold the Senate today. Tea Party godfather and current head of the Heritage Foundation Jim DeMint famously said, “I’d rather have 30 Marco Rubios than 60 Arlen Specters.” Of course, even Rubio may face a primary challenge in his next election for daring to support immigration reform.
But primary challenges are better than the party actually splitting in two, which some Tea Party activists are suggesting may be inevitable.
Ted Cruz Won’t Rule Out Another Shutdown
“John, what happened?” President Obama asked, according to Politico.
“I got overrun, that’s what happened,” Boehner said.
The GOP leadership never wanted a shutdown. They wanted a debt limit standoff, even though the Speaker has admitted that he could never default on America’s debt. Boehner knew that a government shutdown would inevitably be blamed on the guys who don’t like government and wouldn’t simply dampen the poll numbers of both sides, as 2011’s debt ceiling crisis did. The president’s poll numbers were hit by the shutdown but the GOP’s numbers have been a “jaw-dropping disaster.”
“The combination of redistricting; population sorting; and media-viewing, listening, and reading habits has created ideological and partisan culs-de-sac and incestuous thinking that are causing astonishing miscalculations on hugely consequential matters,” Charlie Cook of Cook Political Report wrote on Friday.
And the best part? Ted Cruz is threatening to do it again.
“I would do anything, and I will continue to do anything I can, to stop the train wreck that is Obamacare,” Cruz told ABC’s Jon Karl, in an interview that will air Sunday.
The good news for the GOP is that his chief accomplice in the House isn’t eager to replay October’s disaster. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), one of the authors of the letter that laid out the “defund Obamacare” strategy Boehner got overrun by, has been sounding very pragmatic since the government opened again.
But a marginalized Ted Cruz isn’t a powerless Ted Cruz. The junior senator from Texas has said that he isn’t in Washington D.C. to make friends. And he isn’t. But he doesn’t need them there.
“Cruz is deriving his power — and the power of his convictions — well outside of Washington,” ABC’s Rick Klein reports. “Like Sarah Palin before him, efforts to shun and sideline him figure to only make him stronger, at least in the near future.”
“Every day I imagine the president wakes up and thanks God for Ted Cruz,” one GOP senator said during the shutdown.
And thanks to Ted Cruz, President Obama can reasonably hope that he’ll end his presidency dealing with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr