Yesterday, John Boehner told a Cincinnati radio station, "We fought the good fight. We just didn't win." That's one way to look at what happened; another is that frightened Republicans allowed their most unhinged members to pull them into a political disaster that any rational person could have foreseen (and many certainly did). That Republicans would never get what they wanted—the destruction of the Affordable Care Act—was obvious. That they'd come out of it with almost nothing at all was nearly as predictable. So now that the battle is over, how are conservatives reacting? Let's take a look around.
First, we've got some people who are seething with rage at their party for not hanging tough until they destroyed Obamacare:
"I was trying to think earlier today if ever in my life I could remember any major political party being so irrelevant … I've never seen a major political party simply occupy placeholders, as the Republican party is doing." — Rush Limbaugh
"Republican leadership has completely lost its way. Not only is this proposal a full surrender—it’s a complete surrender with presents for the Democrats." — Matt Kibbe, FreedomWorks
"There are no significant changes to Obamacare, nothing on the other major entitlements that are racked with trillions in unfunded liabilities, and no meaningful spending cuts either. If this bill passes, Congress will kick the can down the road, yet again." — Andy Roth, Club for Growth
"Unfortunately, the proposed deal will do nothing to stop Obamacare's massive new entitlements from taking root—radically changing the nature of American health care … Heritage Action opposes the Senate-negotiated proposal and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard." — Heritage Action
"I am tired of funding Republicans who campaign against Obamacare then refuse to fight. It's time to find a new batch of Republicans to actually practice what the current crop preaches… So what good is the GOP? It is time to fight this out in primaries in 2014." — Erick Erickson, RedState
Some conservatives, however, are mad at the Tea Partiers who pushed the shutdown. "I think if you make a mistake as big as what they did, you owe your fellow senators and congressmen a big apology—and your constituents, as well, because nothing they did advanced the cause of repealing or dismantling Obamacare," said Grover Norquist. On the other hand, there were those counseling the factions to let bygones be bygones. "If at all possible," wrote the National Review's Jonah Goldberg, "I think conservatives and Republicans would be well-served by putting these disagreements behind us, like family fights at a Thanksgiving table that are best forgotten."
What about the Tea Partiers in Congress who were responsible for the shutdown? Are they livid at Speaker Boehner for allowing a vote on such a denuded bill? Apparently not. In fact, judging from their public comments they could hardly be happier with the Speaker. Why? Because although he managed to obtain almost none of the things they demanded, Boehner held out for two weeks before giving in. In other words: We lost, but in the process we did substantial damage to the American economy! "I've actually been really proud of Speaker Boehner the past few weeks, I don’t think he should be ashamed of anything he has done," said Raul Labrador of Idaho. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina said Boehner is "100 percent stronger" after the crisis. "No one blames him for this." Michele Bachmann agreed that Boehner "has done an incredible job holding the caucus together through all this; he did everything he could to get a good, positive result, and I'm proud of him."
Everyone wanted to know whether Ted Cruz thought this was a win or a loss for the cause, and the answer is … yes! "This is a terrible deal," Cruz said. But he also said, "It was an incredible victory." I'm guessing the latter is because it got a lot of people talking about Ted Cruz.
One thing we haven't heard much of, at least yet, is what lessons the GOP can learn from this episode. Will they be chastened? More realistic about what demands they can make? Eager to rebuild their damaged reputation by demonstrating their commitment to responsible governance? I wouldn't bet on it.