Now that the government shutdown and debt limit fight are over and Washington is trying to return to some semblance of normalcy, political insiders are assessing the damages. They are gauging exactly how much harm has been done to the Republican Party by the renegade Tea Party wing in Congress.
Were Republicans so thoroughly humiliated by the saga that they will now be more willing to accept compromise, giving the president at least some of what he wants with immigration reform and the farm bill—or will they emerge from this even more intransigent, like the sulking little boy intent on exacting revenge on his enemies?
Most observers have no doubt that it will be the latter.
“The president obviously benefits from this fight,” Neera Tanden, a former Obama administration official who is now president of the left-leaning Center for American Progress in Washington, told the New York Times. “The question of how much he benefits hasn’t been answered. Do they want to refight the budget fight or do the budget fights end?”
Political experts are noting how much of a favor the Republicans did Obama by not only handing him a big victory, but distracting the media and the public from two possibly embarrassing storylines that were brewing before the budget battle: the president’s handling of the chemical weapons attack in Syria and the technical glitches in the rollout of the Obamacare exchanges.
A senior White House aide, insisting on anonymity, told the Times that Obama’s advisers believe the outcome “changed the incentive structure” so Republicans will not repeat their approach when the next spending and debt ceiling deadlines arrive.
“You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president?” the president said to Republicans on Thursday. “Then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election. Push to change it. But don’t break it. Don’t break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building.”
Mr. Obama laid out three areas in which to seek agreement with Republicans — a longer-term spending deal, an immigration overhaul and a farm bill. “I understand we will not suddenly agree on everything now that the cloud of crisis has passed,” he said. “But,” he added, “that should not hold back our efforts in areas where we do agree.”
But it doesn’t appear that the conservative wing is listening.
Representative Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho told a Heritage Foundation forum on Wednesday that “it would be crazy” for House Republicans now to negotiate with the president on immigration, because “he’s trying to destroy the Republican Party.”
“The House is going to remain focused on solutions to grow our economy,” Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, said, “but the president did himself no favors by rejecting negotiations and every good faith offer Republicans made him.”
There are some places where Republicans will feel an immediate sting from the shutdown, such as the governor’s race in Virginia. A new NBC4/NBC News/Marist poll shows that 54 percent of Virginians blame Republicans for the shutdown, while just 31 percent blame President Obama. In addition, Democrats face unfavorables of 45-50 percent and President Obama has favorables at 50-48 percent.
An ABC poll shows 38 percent saying the shutdown would have a major impact on their vote while 21 percent said it would have a minor one.
This all benefits Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe, who leads Republican Ken Cuccinelli among likely voters, 46 percent to 38 percent.
“I think the elites, the Washington establishment, have won the battle, but I think that we will eventually win the war,” Tim Huelskamp, a member of the Tea Party congressional caucus, said after House Speaker John Boehner announced his retreat.
Asked if he meant the split in his party would separate “the wheat from the chaff,” Huelskamp smiled broadly, and said that was a phrase he often used on his Kansas farm.
“People back at home realize not all Republicans are conservatives,” he said, according to The Guardian. “And some Republicans are anti-conservative.”
But despite such brash talk, many mainstream Republicans are fearful they may have a difficult time recovering from the whole budget saga, fearing their Congressional party has been dealt a mortal blow by the standoff.
“There are some people in my party that you cannot convince that this isn’t, somehow, beneficial,” said Adam Kinzinger, a congressman from Illinois. “I think anyone who looks at this and thinks shutting down the government is a great GOP strategy is probably at the forefront of ensuring we are not a governing party.”
Political strategist Chris Henick, a former adviser to George W. Bush and Rudy Giuliani, predicts the party’s mainstream will focus on moderate Republican governors such as Chris Christie and the fiscal conservatism of younger congressmen like Paul Ryan.
“If there is a longer term strategy, at least into the second quarter of 2014, it will be focusing on Ryan and his growth strategy and taking a lead from the governors,” he told the Guardian.