Rush Is Wrong About Government Shutdowns

Published December 9, 2014

National Review Online

Rush Limbaugh is a savvy guy who thinks Republican leaders are wrong to shun the idea of another government shutdown. Appearing on Fox News Sunday, he argued that the only important poll is the one held on Election Day. “[The GOP] won a landslide election ten months after that so-called shutdown . . . The essence of a poll is an election, and I’ve got two of them. And we would have won in 2012 if 4 million Republicans hadn’t stayed home.”

The belief that Romney would have won in 2012 if millions of Republicans hadn’t sat out the election is widely shared on the right, but it’s probably not true. Sean Trende, one of the country’s most careful election analysts, examined turnout data for Real Clear Politics. Counties that voted for Ross Perot tended to show a drop off in 2012, suggesting that a possible 6.5 million white voters were “missing” in 2012. But, as Trende observes, Romney would have had to win those voters by 90 percent to alter the outcome of the election, and considering that he won an average of 60 percent of white votes, that seems far-fetched.

Democrats plan for decades to achieve their goals. They aim to “fundamentally transform” the United States into a social-democratic nation like France, Germany, and well, Greece. When they gain majorities, they push their agenda to the breaking point, as they did in 2009 with Obamacare — a vote that cost them dearly in electoral defeats (and is now lamented by Senators Schumer and Harkin). Half of the senators who voted for Obamacare are no longer in office, and Democrats have lost control of both houses.

Republicans want to shrink government, revive the mediating institutions of society like family, community groups, and churches, improve national defense, and restore economic vitality by removing government-imposed burdens on small business. A key ambition, universally endorsed by Republicans, is repealing and replacing Obamacare.

Unlike Democrats though, Republicans are hampered by distrust of one another. Rush Limbaugh feeds this atmosphere of suspicion by suggesting that the reason Republican leaders are avoiding another shutdown is that they secretly support what Obama has done on immigration. “The Republicans want what Obama wants on immigration and they are using the government shutdown as an excuse to not stop [him].”

There is little doubt that the shutdown damaged the party’s standing. Polls showed that approval of the Republican party hit an all time low of 32 percent during the shutdown. Fifty-three percent of Americans blamed the GOP for the impasse, versus only 29 percent who blamed the president. Approval of Congress registered at 12 percent, with 85 percent disapproving and 70 percent strongly disapproving.

And for what? After three and a half weeks of predictable and predicted bad press, Republicans were forced to reopen the government having achieved nothing. The shutdown was a triumph of politics as tantrum. There could be no path to repealing Obamacare while Democrats controlled the Senate and Obama sat in the Oval Office.

There are two reasons that Republicans will always get blamed for government shutdowns. (1) The press will, without fail, report the shutdown as the Republicans’ doing and highlight the suffering of those whose checks fail to arrive, or whose businesses are harmed, or whatever; and (2) Democrats are the government party. Even low-information voters know that Democrats are for government, and Republicans more or less against it. Government shutdowns permit Republicans to be caricatured as irresponsible anarchists who cannot be trusted with power.

While it’s true that Republicans won in 2014 despite their 2013 foolishness, we have the enduring stability of the American electorate to credit for that. When dissatisfied, American voters don’t take to the streets, they simply vote for the other party. Considering Obama’s blunders, it’s possible that Republicans would have done even better last month if the shutdown had never happened. New Hampshire and Virginia were close.

Rather than impugning one another’s motives, the chief job of Republicans over the next two years will be to send reform bills to the president’s desk that broad majorities of the American people support. When he vetoes them, the issues will be squarely presented to the voters in 2016. That’s the only path to repealing Obamacare, reversing the president’s unconstitutional executive order, and generally getting the ship of state righted.

— Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. © 2014 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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