Just What Republicans Wanted

At midnight tonight, the current funding resolution expires, and in the likely absence of compromise between the White House and congressional Republicans, we should expect a massive shutdown of government services.

Not that this comes as a surprise; since this Congress began, Republican radicals have kept a hold on the legislative process, demanding harsh cuts in a variety of social services, while refusing to compromise with Democrats on anything of substance. It was only a matter of time before right-wing House conservatives pulled the Republican Party into a game of budget brinkmanship, where cooperation is impossible, and the only acceptable outcome for Republicans is total victory.

Accordingly, right-wing conservatives are more than excited about this moment; yesterday, in a bit of a Freudian slip, Indiana Republican Mike Pence declared that with the shutdown, conservatives are "trying to score a victory for the Republican people." He later amended this to "American people," but it seemed insincere, especially given his previous enthusiasm for a shutdown. From an interview with MSNBC's Contessa Brewer: "If liberals in the Senate would rather play political games and force a government shutdown instead of accepting a modest down payment on fiscal discipline and reform, I say, 'Shut it down.'"

With that said, it's interesting to see who in the Republican Party has or hasn't commented on the prospect of a government shutdown. In general, Senate Republicans have been mum, while conservative activists have been enthusiastic. Notably missing from the conversation: the potential Republican nominees for president. Normally, this motley crew has been more than willing to take a stand -- or voice a loud opinion -- if it bolstered their support vis-a-vis their competitors. So far, however, they've been out of the public eye.

That said, we shouldn't let their current silence obscure the extent to which they have been ardent supporters of the government shutdown. In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Newt Gingrich cautioned against a shutdown but later added, "Another shutdown of the federal government is not an ideal result, but for House Republicans, breaking their word would be far worse. If it comes to a shutdown, the GOP should stick to its principles."

In February, while promoting his book, Mike Huckabee also endorsed the government shutdown as a show of force: "I think it could happen, and maybe it has to, because at some time either now or later, the government is going to shut down either from bankruptcy in the future or from a targeted effect to try to get someone's attention that we're overspending and not managing at all." Around the same time, Sarah Palin proposed a shutdown for "a week or two" so that "the message that is sent to our politicians who are so tone-deaf to what the people of America are saying." And Tim Pawlenty -- again, in February -- called the possibility of a shutdown a "line in the sand" moment.

That these Republicans can endorse a shutdown in February but refrain from commenting on the verge of an actual shutdown demonstrates the extent to which they are boxed in by the Republican base and other conservative elites. Indeed, the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal polls show little appetite for tolerance among Republicans and general excitement at the prospect of a shutdown. Conservatives -- and particularly their hyper-ideological fellow travelers -- want a government shutdown and will disparage any presidential candidate who voices hesitation.

For Republican presidential candidates, it makes the most sense to show tacit support before the shutdown was likely, while staying quiet during the actual showdown. Of course, for political observers, it's more than a little depressing; it's more than obvious that the GOP candidates have been cowed by the GOP base, to the point that they're unable to take a common sense position against shutting down the government, even as people prepare to miss their paychecks, benefits, and other services.

Indeed, the entire scenario is more than a little troubling. We already know that the current crop of Republican presidential candidates are far less than ideal and support -- or endorse -- a whole host of crazy ideas and crackpot notions. Apparently, this doesn't exclude support for a government shutdown, despite its potential for harm to everyone, from the rich and privileged to the least well-off.

No, a policy of pain for the American people is the only acceptable thing to the Republican base. And so, we should expect the GOP presidential candidates to stay quiet and watch, even while the country takes a leap back to 1995 and plunges into the brave -- but familiar -- world of government shutdowns.

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