COMMENTARY | Republicans are considering shutting down the government to force Obama’s hand on public spending on the debt ceiling debate. However, the GOP is heading into the same trap that Newt Gingrich led the party in the mid-1990s, by (a) revealing their plans beforehand, and (b) promising gridlock before the battle begins. Both will hurt the party in 2014, no matter what.
In the Atlantic Wire article by Dashiell Bennett titled “Report: House GOP ‘Seriously Entertaining’ Debt Default Idea,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers from the House leadership told reporters “I think it is possible that we would shut down the government to make sure President Obama understands that we’re serious.”
The representative from the state of Washington just committed the same blunder Newt Gingrich did nearly 20 years ago. The first involves revealing your tactics before the battle. The second involves showing the American people who the unreasonable party is. By threatening the government shutdown, Republicans are telling us who wants gridlock and who wants the social security checks, military payments, public works payments, etc. to go on.
Shortly after his party won the 1994 election, Newt Gingrich announced that they would shut down the government to hold President Bill Clinton’s feet to the fire. In an article by Michael Falcone of ABC News, Gingrich claimed that his party won the shutdown battle. He repeated that argument this past week.
But the facts say otherwise. In Falcone’s article, Norm Ornstein with the conservative American Enterprise Institute claims that Republicans were the ones who lost. Gingrich expected Clinton to cave, and he didn’t. The government shut down twice. Nearly 75 percent of Americans disapproved of the shutdowns. By a nearly two-to-one margin, the people approved of Clinton’s position, instead of Gingrich’s, according to Falcone’s article.
In addition to winning at the polls, the Democrats also did better in the 1996 election. Clinton was re-elected, something that seemed impossible in 1994. Democrats gained ground in the House of Representatives, knocking off 18 GOP incumbents. The Democrats continued to have the momentum in the next two elections. Only in 2002 did the GOP regain the initiative in congressional battles.
Republicans need to explain that they are searching for a deal that would reduce the debt. Should a government shutdown occur, then part of the blame would fall on Obama. But by claiming the tactic is to shut down the government, the GOP will get the blame for such actions, or face the wrath of the conservative base if they don’t.
John A. Tures is an associate professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.