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First Thoughts: 16 days later

Sixteen days later, the GOP took a significant hit… And Obama finds himself in a stronger position than he was in a month ago… No apology (yet) for the shutdown and economic damage… Obama to speak at 10:35 am ET… Looking at the shutdown’s midterm effect… Looking at the Tea Party effect, too… Booker (as expected) wins in NJ… And we have a new NBC4/NBC News/Marist poll on the VA GOV race coming out at 6:00 pm ET.

*** Sixteen days later: After 16 days of shutdown, after coming close to default, and after it all took a toll on the U.S. economy, we saw two different political outcomes: 1) The Republican Party took a significant hit, and 2) President Obama finds himself in a stronger place than he was a month ago. For the GOP, what it got from the shutdown was all pain and no gain. Major changes to President Obama’s health-care law? Nope. Change to funding levels that would have been different from a clean continuing resolution? Nope. Entitlement reforms? Nope. Leverage the GOP can use before the health law fully goes into effect on Jan. 1? Nope. And here’s what Republicans got in return, according to last week’s NBC/WSJ poll: more of the blame for the shutdown, the party’s favorability rating declining to an all-time low, the health-care law becoming more popular, and Democrats having a better shot in the 2014 midterms than they did before the shutdown. Oh, and Ken Cuccinelli’s chances in Virginia’s gubernatorial race are worse today than they were on Oct. 1. During the first few days of the government shutdown, Tea Party Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) made this widely heard comment: “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” So what did they ultimately get out of it? Nothing -- except for lower poll numbers.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) pumps his fist after leaving a meeting of House Republicans at the U.S. Capitol October 16, 2013 in Washington, DC. Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

*** All pain and no gain for GOP, more unity for Democrats: By comparison, President Obama is in a stronger position than he was two weeks ago. Yes, his poll numbers either slightly declined or essentially stayed the same, but think about this: Just a month ago, he was reeling from the Syria debate, and Democrats had defied him on his first choice to head the Fed. Now? The party is more unified than ever -- every single Democrat (see here and here) voted for last night’s legislation to re-open the government. Oh, and did we mention the health care rollout? Government shutdown aside, the rollout was still bad, and the administration dodged a political bullet over the last two weeks because of the shutdown. Imagine where the GOP would be today (and where the president could be today) if the last two weeks had been about the health-care rollout instead of the shutdown? But those fixes better come quickly. With the shutdown over, the scrutiny over the website and enrollment numbers are about to increase.

*** No apology: The Republican Party’s poll numbers weren’t the only casualty from this fiscal standoff. S&P yesterday said the shutdown resulted in $24 billion of lost economic output, and estimated that it would shave 0.6% off the 4th-quarter GDP numbers. Then there were the individual costs -- lost or reduced paychecks for federal workers, losses for small businesses dependent on these workers, children removed from Head Start programs, scientists no getting their government grants. And here’s what’s surprising: Unless we missed it, we didn’t hear a single apology from members of Congress, especially from the side that precipitated the shutdown. The president apologized once last week for all this. And he’s likely to talk about the workers and contractors who were caught in the middle of this later today when he speaks at 10:35 am ET. 

*** A divided conservative movement: Strikingly, House Republicans told us that the shutdown debate only strengthened House Speaker John Boehner’s hand with his GOP conference. There was an appreciation from Tea Party members that he stuck with them (even on what turned out to be bad strategy). Some of the quotes from his most conservative troops: “‘He has done an incredible job holding the caucus together through all this,” Michele Bachmann (R-MN) said. “I think his stock has risen tremendously, and certainly he has great security as our leader and our speaker,” Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) added, per NBC’s Frank Thorp. That’s one side to the story, but here’s the other: House Republicans were divided on last night’s vote to re-open the government and avoid default -- 144 voted against it, 87 voted for it. (That division includes Boehner and Cantor who were “yeses” and Paul Ryan who was a “no.”) Senate Republicans were divided, too -- 27 voted for it, 18 were against. Conservative commentators also were upset with the outcome. Mark Levin: “Why is it so hard for the Republican leadership and their cheerleaders in the media - not the big media, the so-called conservative media which isn't very conservative - why is it so hard for them to make the case to the American people that they stand with the American people?” Erick Erickson: “… Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and others have preached a great sermon against Obamacare, but now conservatives who supported them see that these men have refused to actually practice what they’ve been preaching. They’ve refused to stand and fight with the rest of us.”

*** The midterm effect: And then there’s the midterm effect. It’s worth noting that SEVEN House Republicans are running (or expected to run) in the most competitive Senate contests next year -- Tom Cotton (AR); Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey, and Jack Kingston (GA); Bill Cassidy (LA); Steve Daines (MT); and Shelley Moore Capito (WV). And we’ve already seen the 2014 Democratic playbook: “Bill Cassidy voted to shut down the government, repeatedly voted against re-opening it and now says he will vote against the bipartisan compromise to end his government shutdown and prevent the U.S. from defaulting on its debt for the first time in history,” Mary Landrieu’s campaign said in a statement last night. However, these seven House Republicans voted differently last night -- Broun, Cassidy, Gingrey, and Kingston voted AGAINST the legislation to re-open the government (all are facing conservative challengers before they get to the general), while Cotton, Capito, and Daines voted FOR it (those three are likely to duck a serious primary challenge so they had a freer hand).

*** The Tea Party effect: Today, it’s expected that Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) will announce he’s challenging Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), which means that at least six GOP senators will be seeing semi-serious or very serious primary challenges from the right in 2014 -- Mitch McConnell (who voted yes last night), Mike Enzi (no), Cochran (yes), Lindsey Graham (yes), Lamar Alexander (yes), and Pat Roberts (no). By the way, this was the release that McConnell challenger Mike Bevin released yesterday: "McConnell just negotiated the GOP surrender to Harry Reid, leading the charge to give President Obama a blank check and lifting the debt ceiling once again without any spending reforms. Harry Reid has even praised McConnell for his 'cooperation.'”

*** Booker wins in New Jersey: Also last night, Democrat Cory Booker -- as expected -- beat Republican Steve Lonegan in New Jersey’s Senate contest, 55% to 44%. Lonegan’s showing was clearly a lot better than anyone would have guessed a month ago. Booker essentially performed where any generic Democrat for a Senate race should perform; he didn’t create any new wave of voters. And part of that was the nature of the special and part of that was he ran a very mediocre campaign, which many folks outside the state believe is because of Booker himself. Does that make the NRSC think about finding a top-tier challenger to run against him in 2014? Also, we’ll remind you what we wrote about Booker back in August: Don’t be surprised if he tries to shake things up in the Senate; call him the anti-Ted Cruz. “The way Ted Cruz has lit up the right in his first nine months, don’t be surprised if Booker becomes a liberal counterweight to Cruz. He’s unlikely to pursue the strategy that Hillary, Franken and Elizabeth Warren have all pursued or are pursuing and that is to keep a low profile in his first term. That’s not how Booker ticks.” Oh, and so long, interim Sen. Jeff Chiesa (R-NJ), we hardly knew ye.

*** A new VA GOV poll: Lastly, we have a new NBC4/NBC News/Marist poll coming out on Virginia’s gubernatorial race. Our results will be released at 6:00 pm ET.

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