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Why the GOP can ignore the brutal government shutdown polls — for now
There's still plenty of time for Republicans to save themselves from irrelevance
 
The GOP's 2014 prospects partly hinge on Ted Cruz.
The GOP's 2014 prospects partly hinge on Ted Cruz. (REUTERS/Donna Carson)

October has not been a good month for Republicans. The party gained nothing from instigating the government shutdown and debt ceiling fights other than a historically low approval rating and a roiling intra-party blame game.

Given the GOP's deep unpopularity and state of disarray, polls have indicated the party is in line for an electoral shellacking in 2014. In the latest such indicator, a Washington Post/ABC News poll this week found that voters by a large 11-point margin said they would rather vote for a Democrat than a Republican next year.

If the elections were held today, Republicans would probably get creamed. The damage to the party has been "considerable" and "undeniable," election forecaster Stuart Rothenberg wrote, adding that the repercussions could very well carry over to the next elections — and even into 2016.

However, a year is an eternity in electoral politics — remember when Michele Bachmann was trouncing everyone for the GOP presidential nomination? — giving the GOP ample time to repair its image as the news cycle turns.

Citing the 2011 debt ceiling standoff, Nate Silver noted that Obama's approval rating initially tanked during that fight, only to rebound in time for him to coast to re-election. "Most political stories have a fairly short half-life and won't turn out to be as consequential as they seem at the time," he wrote.

History bears this out. In the Washington Post/ABC News survey, Americans blamed Republicans more than Obama for the shutdown by a 53-29 percent split, or roughly in line with how voters broke between President Clinton and the GOP during the 1995-96 shutdown. While the GOP suffered during that debacle, the ordeal "did little to impact Americans' views" in the long term, according to Gallup, with public opinion soon returning to where it was pre-shutdown.

In the 1996 election, Republicans lost only three seats in the House, while gaining two in the Senate. With gerrymandered districts potentially sheltering incumbents even more this time around, the GOP could be further insulated from lingering backlash.

What will have a greater impact on the 2014 races is how Republicans regroup and govern moving ahead.

The ObamaCare rollout has, by even the president's account, been a disaster. Polls have shown Americans willing to give the administration time to work out the kinks, but prolonged problems could give the GOP a second wind. Indeed, hiccups with the health care exchange site could lead to a nightmare scenario in which the individual mandate is threatened, giving Republicans solid ground to claim that their warnings were right.

Republicans will also get another crack at governing sensibly in January, when the latest budget deal expires. That, and another debt ceiling deadline in February, are points at which the GOP can prove it has learned something from the shutdown fiasco and put on a moderate face.

Republican leaders have insisted they will under no circumstances let another shutdown happen. However, they will still need to convince Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and his acolytes to "sit down and shut up," as Chamber of Commerce CEO Thomas Donohue put it when prompted by a reporter.

Cruz has said he would consider fighting for another shutdown, a possible shot across the bow in what is quickly developing into a party civil war. At the same time, outside Tea Party groups critical of the GOP establishment banked millions from the government shutdown, raising the possibility that the party will become mired next year in an expensive battle against itself. If infighting, divisive primaries, and incessant finger-pointing plague the party next year, it would scuttle any hope of a reboot.

For now, the no-good, very bad polls are mainly a warning, a sign of what could happen should the party stay on the same course. If the party stumbles into more messy battles next year, Republicans will have to get used to saying "Speaker Pelosi" all over again.

 
Jon Terbush is an associate editor at TheWeek.com covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.

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