IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The wrong way to play the shutdown blame game

Getty Images

The Republican scheme to shut down the government over the Affordable Care Act has deeply divided the right, and the fissures appear to growing deeper as the fight continues. For their part, those pushing for a shutdown still hope to shift the responsibility to the White House.

Former Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, now head of the far-right Heritage Foundation, argued yesterday for example, "I wouldn't shut down the government. But if Obama wouldn't accept the funding bill for the government that fully funds the government because it didn't have his failed law in it, then he would be shutting down the government."

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who arguably got this ball rolling several weeks ago, told Sean Hannity something similar late last week:

"Well, the one who's threatening to shut down the government is the president and his Democratic allies. What they're basically saying is, unless the budget funds Obamacare, they won't support it. They're basically saying that, unless we fund Obamacare, they are willing to shut down the government.... [I]t's their insistence on continuing to pour money into this broken and failed experiment that is threatening a government shutdown, not us."

For now, let's put aside how little Rubio understands about heath care policy and instead focus on the rhetorical strategy here: he, DeMint, and others seriously want Americans to believe that if they shut down the government, it's the president's fault. Why? Because Obama failed to meet their demands.

It's effectively the same thing as a hostage taker harming a hostage and then pointing the finger elsewhere. "This isn't my fault; blame the hostage's loved ones for not paying the ransom and meeting my demands."

And while it's possible that Rubio and DeMint have deluded themselves into believing their own rhetoric, there's simply no credible way to believe the American mainstream will buy their pitch. Indeed, they're even struggling to persuade their own ostensible allies.

Plenty of notable Republicans have already denounced the far-right's shutdown strategy, and the list keeps growing. Just yesterday, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) joined the ranks, saying on "Face the Nation" that he's not on board with the plan, either.

And then there are the GOP governors, who think the scheme is a really bad idea.

Indeed, this might be one of the more overlooked angles to the fight. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a prominent pro-shutdown senator, recently said the fight "is yet another instance of Washington versus everyone else." Except in this case, Lee's idea isn't popular at all outside of his circle of right-wing, inside-the-Beltway friends.

Worried about the potential impact on the fragile economies in their states, Republican governors this weekend warned their counterparts in Congress not to shut down the federal government as part of an effort to block financing for President Obama's health care law.

A range of Republican governors, including some who have refused to implement elements of the health initiative in their states, said in interviews that a standoff in Washington before the new fiscal year this fall could backfire on the party if it is seen as being responsible for bringing the government to a halt.

"I have made the case that Obamacare is not good for the economy, but I have some real concerns about potentially doing something that would have a negative impact on the economy just for the short term -- I think there are other ways to pursue this," said Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who hosted about half of the country's governors here for the summer meeting of the National Governors Association.

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R), Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R), Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R), and Oklahoma Mary Fallin (R) made similar comments.

To reiterate a point from a couple of weeks ago, GOP policymakers have generally been on the same page in recent years, especially when it comes to health care and budgeting, but this unanimity is unraveling -- and if the party isn't unified behind their own government-shutdown strategy, it's simply not going to happen. For Republicans, it's been difficult enough to sustain party unity on routine, everyday issues -- to pull off this kind of hostage/extortion strategy when the GOP is already splintering is impossible.