Groundhog Day is set for Feb. 2, 2014, a mere five days before the temporary raising of the debt ceiling will expire and a little over two weeks after the continuing budget resolution will expire. This may not be mere coincidence, as it is pretty likely that we will be in the same situation then that we’ve been in for the last two weeks. Russ Douthat, a relatively reasonable conservative, hopes that the House Republicans have learned their lesson and that cooler heads will prevail:
But with tonight’s vote done and the government open once again, I want to return to the theme of my Sunday column, and stress once more the essential absurdity of the specific populist gambit we’ve just witnessed unfold, drag on, and now finally collapse. However you slice and dice the history, the strategery, and the underlying issues, the decision to live with a government shutdown for an extended period of time — inflicting modest-but-real harm on the economy, needlessly disrupting the lives and paychecks of many thousands of hardworking people, and further tarnishing the Republican Party’s already not-exactly-shiny image — in pursuit of obviously, obviously unattainable goals was not a normal political blunder by a normally-functioning political party. It was an irresponsible, dysfunctional and deeply pointless act, carried out by a party that on the evidence of the last few weeks shouldn’t be trusted with the management of a banana stand, let alone the House of Representatives.
This means that the still-ongoing intra-conservative debate over the shutdown’s wisdom is not, I’m sorry, the kind of case where reasonable people can differ on the merits and have good-faith arguments and ultimately agree to disagree. There was no argument for the shutdown itself that a person unblindered by political fantasies should be obliged to respect, no plausible alternative world in which it could have led to any outcome besides self-inflicted political damage followed by legislative defeat, and no epitaph that should be written for its instigators’ planning and execution except: “These guys deserved to lose.”…
So for undeluded conservatives of all persuasions, lessons must be learned. If the party’s populists want to shape and redefine and ultimately remake the party, they can’t pull this kind of stunt again. If the party’s leadership wants to actually lead, whether within the G.O.P. or in the country at large, they can’t let this kind of stunt be pulled again. That’s the only way in which this pointless-seeming exercise could turn out to have some sort of point: If it’s long remembered, by its proponents and their enablers alike, as the utter folly that it was.
Michael Tomasky pours some cold water on this hope:
The key question today is whether the right lesson has been learned.
And the answer is: I very seriously doubt it, unless the responsible voices in the party are more willing to step to the front of the room and take on the extremists. Because the extremists certainly haven’t learned anything. All they’ve “learned” is that if they’d just held tougher, they’d have won!
That’s what Ted Cruz meant yesterday, when he blasted the Senate for not behaving more like the House. It’s what Rush Limbaugh meant when he said that the GOP was “irrelevant” and—ponder this—trying too hard “to make people like them.” (!) It’s what the tea party people in the House meant yesterday when they told various Capitol Hill reporters that Boehner’s job was safe in their eyes, because he went to the mat with them. They are all saying: Not only are we going to do this again; we’re going to come up with ways to do it harder…
So now we move to actual budget negotiations. The position of the chaos caucus is going to be: Okay Obama, you give us entitlement cuts, and we’ll give you…uh, what? No revenues. They’re inflexible on that point. No programs (outside maybe of defense, and even that’s a maybe) funded at levels above sequestration. So actually, they’ll give nothing. Oh, wait: They’ll give Obama a government that doesn’t shut down in January, and a country that doesn’t default next spring. So chances are decent that we’ll be in exactly the same place.
Unfortunately, I think he’s right. What are we hearing today from the hard right? That they should have gone even further, that they should have kept the government closed and let the country default. As always, conservatism can never fail, it can only be failed by those who aren’t resolute enough. The answer from the wingnuts is never to rethink, it is always to double down. And that’s why we’re stuck in Groundhog Day.