I’ve been too absorbed by my book projects and by Australian politics (of which more soon) to pay a lot of attention to the forthcoming US elections, but it seems to be widely projected that the Republicans could regain control of the House of Representatives. What surprises me is that no-one has drawn the obvious inference as to what will follow, namely a shutdown of the US government.
It seems obvious to me that a shutdown will happen – the Republicans of today are both more extreme and more disciplined than last time they were in a position to shut down the government, and they did it then. And they hate Obama at least as much now as they hated Clinton in 1995 (maybe not quite as much as they hated him by 2000, but they are getting there faster this time).
I do not think that this analysis is correct. The government shutdown was a political failure for Republicans — it did no damage to Clinton, who sailed to victory in 1996. The trouble with a government shutdown, from the Republican perspective, is that it generates too many stories about people who couldn’t visit public parks that week and that it focuses attention on actual budgetary details; it’s a battle fought on reality-based turf, and that terrain is not favorable to Republicans.
Endless investigations are another story. While Republicans did suffer losses in 1998, the fact that they won the White House in 2000 means that impeachment must be viewed as something of a political success. Moreover, modern Republicans excel at destroying their opponents personally, and personal destruction was the end goal of the various investigations of Clinton.
There are those who say that Republicans won’t be able to do this with Obama, because there is nothing significant to investigate. I would ask them to remember that Gingrich-era Republicans took 140 hours of testimony about the Clinton’s Christmas card list.
Here’s how it plays out, I think…if Republicans take the House, they’ll launch endless, pointless investigations of Obama. At least some of these will have a nasty, racial tinge, a la the New Black Panther Party stuff. Establishment media will take all of these investigations very seriously and start hankering for a president who “can bring the country together”. This sets the stage for a Republican nominee who is a uniter, not a divider (who knows if the GOP will succeed in nominating a candidate who can dupe Villagers into buying this line — EDIT: I think Villagers will buy it from John Thune or Mitch Daniels, they won’t but it from Sarah Palin, with the other possible nominees, I’m not sure one way or the other).
Remember what Joe Klein wrote in his implicit endorsement of George W. Bush (post-election day, pre-SCOTUS decision):
Gore ran a more divisive campaign and then reinforced his partisan reputation by challenging the results in Florida; if he does win the Presidency, his ability to govern will have been severely compromised. . . Each day the struggle continues, the likelihood of a successful Presidency diminishes, but success remains a possibility, particularly for a politician who is humble and gracious, nimble and fearless—that is, a politician who understands that the public’s greatest desire is to be liberated from the witless vehemence that engulfed the Clinton years and which now threatens even more serious damage to our public life.
If the economy isn’t in terrible shape in 2012, Republicans don’t have a great chance of beating Obama. But they’d be foolish not to try the LewiskyGate, TravelGate, SocksGate gambit again. It worked last time.