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Winners and losers of the government shutdown

The shutdown of the federal government is poised to reshuffle U.S. politics, as Americans observe one of the starkest examples of political dysfunction since the last shutdown in the mid-90s.That crisis reinvigorated President Bill Clinton and badly set back a then-resurgent Republican Party that had designs of retaking the White House in the 1996 elections. The GOP fell well short of expectations

The shutdown of the federal government is poised to reshuffle U.S. politics, as Americans observe one of the starkest examples of political dysfunction since the last shutdown in the mid-90s.

That crisis reinvigorated President Bill Clinton and badly set back a then-resurgent Republican Party that had designs of retaking the White House in the 1996 elections. The GOP fell well short of expectations in that election, though some conservatives now argue that the party's performance wasn't as bad as it seemed at the time.

Nonetheless, after two-and-a-half years of standoffs and gridlock, the fact that a shutdown has finally come to pass — 17 days before Congress must also raise the debt ceiling, no less — could upend politics with unforeseen consequences for many of this fight's key players.

Here is a look at some of the shutdown's winners and losers.


President Barack Obama

At the end of the day, Obama's signature domestic achievement — the Affordable Care Act — survived this fight intact.

What's more, the president didn't have to offer any concessions in exchange for leaving his namesake "Obamacare" law alone.

Unlike the 2011 debt-ceiling fight, when the administration agreed to the automatic spending cuts that would eventually form the basis of the sequester, this time the administration held the line and didn't yield much ground to Republicans.

The developments mark a somewhat stunning turnaround for Obama's political fortunes over the last month.

Just a few week's ago, the administration was struggling badly to win congressional approval for intervention in Syria — an initiative which had no less than Obama's second-term relevance riding on it.

Now, Obama has dispensed with the Syria issue (for now) through diplomacy, and scored a major win over Republicans -- a rare victory, given the waning prospects for immigration reform or major gun control legislation during his presidency.

Democratic candidates

Democrats' chances of regaining control of the House have been regarded as steep at best, given the advantages many GOP state legislatures crafted during the Census-mandated redistricting process in 2010. And more Senate Democrats must defend their seats in competitive states come 2014.

Behind the scenes, though, Democrats are quietly giddy about the political fallout from a shutdown, and what it could mean in the midterm elections.

Following the shutdown of 1996-96, Republicans fell well short of expectations during that year's election. Democrats believe a shutdown gives them a solid campaign issue to use against GOP candidates in next November's election, turning a status quo contest into a potential wave election.

Harry Reid

Democrats have widely credited Reid, the shrewd former boxer, for helping spearhead Democrats' tough negotiating strategy throughout the standoff over government spending.

Repeatedly, Reid acted swiftly and without any second-guessing from fellow Democrats to dispense Republican efforts to undo part or all of Obamacare. Reid meanwhile needled Republicans throughout the debate, calling them "weird" and telling his conservative opponents to "get a life."

More significantly, in a chamber where a number of Democrats from Republican-leaning states face re-election in 2014, Reid convinced all of his colleagues to hold out against GOP-led attacks that might have prompted wavering and an eventual Republican victory.

Republican governors

If there's one clear group of winners during this latest fiscal fiasco, it's the group of Republicans outside of Washington with designs on the White House in 2016.

New Jersey Gov, Chris Christie has been a regular critic of fellow Republicans in Congress for their actions in past budget standoffs. Should Christie wage a bid for the GOP nomination in 2016, he has an opportunity to both distance himself from congressional Republicans' toxic reputation, while also fashioning himself as a Washington outsider.

Related: Christie says shutdown debate would look different if he was in charge

For that matter, any number of other Republican governors thought to have an interest in the GOP nod — Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker or Texas Gov. Rick Perry — would be all too happy to rail against business as usual on Capitol Hill.


John Boehner

Shed a tear for John Boehner, the Ohio Republican and House speaker who made a name for himself during two decades on the Hill as a consummate dealmaker.

Since having assumed the speaker's gavel in 2011, Boehner has been tasked with one of the most thankless jobs in Washington: corralling an especially unruly group of House Republicans more driven by ideology than an interest in lawmaking.

Throughout his speakership, Boehner has had to navigate his own party's right flank — who are all too happy to jilt their speaker on major votes — and the reality of Democratic control in both the Senate and the White House.

The shutdown fight was no different. Boehner stuck with his party's conservatives throughout the process, even as their whims undercut his bargaining position. In short, because Boehner and his team have failed to wield any measure of effective control over the GOP rank and file, the ultimate legislative product is worse for Republicans than it might have been had the party demonstrated any willingness to shrug off hardcore conservatives.


The fiscal fight is a double-edged sword for Obama.

Yes, the president won a short-term victory that revitalizes his pull within the Beltway after beating back Republicans and shifting blame primarily to them for a shutdown. But Obama is no less a symbol of Washington dysfunction than Ted Cruz or John Boehner.

It might be simplistic, but any president shares in some of the broader opinion toward D.C. just by the very nature of the job. Put another way: as president, Obama is the most visible political leader in the U.S., if not the world. If Americans are dissatisfied with Washington, Obama will have to shoulder some of that burden.

Obama's 2011 battles with Republicans over the debt ceiling saw his approval ratings sink to one of the lowest points of his presidency. There are signs this fight might be taking a similar toll: a CNN/ORC poll released Monday found that 53 percent of Americans disapprove of the way the president is handling his job, versus 44 percent who approve.

Moreover, after the time and political capital expended on this nasty political fight — and with midterm elections on the docket for 2014 — Obama's top second-term priorities, like comprehensive immigration reform, are on life support.

Moderate Republicans

It's lonely, being a moderate in a Republican conference dominated by ardent conservatives. Where moderates worry about beating a Democrat each election year, most Republican lawmakers' biggest concern involves surviving a primary challenger who's even more conservative.

So if it weren't enough that Republicans chose to drive a hard conservative bargain in the showdown over funding the government, a nascent revolt by GOP moderates in the House was quashed before it ever began in earnest.

Rep. Peter King, the longtime moderate New York congressman who says he's considering a longshot bid for the presidency in 2016, excoriated fellow Republicans and urged them to accede to Democrats' demand to pass a "clean" continuation of government funding.

"It's a dead-end, it's a dead-end that was orchestrated by Ted Cruz," King told NBC News' Luke Russert, arguing that many Republicans privately wished to approve a clean resolution. "It's going to hurt the government, it's going to hurt the Congress, it's going to hurt the Republican Congress, it's a dead-end."

In the end, though, the revolt stalled before it ever got legs. In a key procedural vote, only six Republicans broke ranks to join with Democrats — reaffirming in boldfaced letters the conservative dominance of the Republican conference.

Ted Cruz and conservative groups

Cruz might have raised his profile on the right after waging a 21-hour talk-a-thon against Obamacare that helped stir conservatives to keep trying to nip at Obamacare throughout the funding fight.

But both Cruz and the conservative groups like Heritage Action, the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth, which added tremendous pressure on Republicans to mirror Cruz on both policy and strategy, eventually fell short of their goal of dismantling Obamacare.

Indeed, the Affordable Care Act takes effect on Tuesday despite every effort by Cruz and his acolytes to stop it.

There is some upside for Cruz: his profile on the right has been advanced considerably, which helps build his stature as a potential candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

But Cruz has also earned the enmity of many of his colleagues, who regard him as self-interested and fault him (along with the conservative groups) for forcing the GOP into a more difficult bargaining position. Cruz has become a whipping boy for Democrats, who are all too eager to make him into the new face of the Republican Party.

"He might as well be Speaker of the House!" one top Democrat, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, said Monday of the first-term Texas senator.