Major trouble is brewing for the Republican Party's dominant Tea Party faction and for the GOP itself. The Tea Partiers' clout in this government shutdown showdown, and in positioning the Republican Party to threaten an economy-destroying debt-limit default, has effectively replaced the GOP's much-hyped re-branding with negative brand reaffirmation. A host of polls show the party's numbers heading south. And some of the party's big donors are not pleased.
The Washington Post reports that some Tea Party members face "early rumblings of a political backlash in some of their districts." Many other news reports contain unnamed Republican congressmen fearful of the Tea Party-influenced, no compromise, defund ObamaCare strategy. The operative word here is "unnamed." With the notable exception of New York's Rep. Peter King, most are afraid to publicly step forward or to break with their party's stand. Even an expected moderate Republican revolt in the Senate fizzled. Polls consistently show Republicans being blamed most for the government shutdown amid rumblings within the party that the ascendant Tea Party faction must be better controlled. And yet, most Republicans are still afraid to take a public stand.
A new poll by The Associated Press-GfK is typical. It finds 62 percent blame the Republicans, while roughly half blame President Barack Obama and the Democrats. It also had this telling tidbit: "More than 4 in 10 Republicans identified with the Tea Party and were more apt than other Republicans to insist that their leaders hold firm in the standoff over reopening government and avoiding a default of the nation's debt in coming weeks."
But Republican donors aren't holding firm. The Atlantic reports that even the Koch Brothers are trying to disassociate themselves from the shutdown:
Koch Industries, umbrella corporate behemoth for the conservative Koch brothers, sent a letter to members of the Senate on Wednesday disavowing any rumored positions on shutting down the government over the president's health care law. Even for the controversial and unloved Kochs, it seems, the Republican plan to force a shutdown over ObamaCare went too far. [The Atlantic]
The Huffington Post reported that the Tea Party-pushed shutdown "is bringing the Republican Party to a boiling point, angering GOP fundraisers and throwing a wrench in the works for the upcoming 2014 elections." The Washington Post found "fundraisers are increasingly alarmed by the defiant stance of hard-line conservatives amid the federal government shutdown, prompting fears that many key donors may be restrained in their giving going into the 2014 midterms." A key quote:
"I oppose ObamaCare as much as anyone else does, but this is not the way to repeal it," said Bobbie Kilberg, a longtime GOP donor and fundraiser in Northern Virginia. "The fact is, donors have had it," Kilberg added, saying she will not give donations to groups raising money broadly for House or Senate Republicans. "I will only give to individual candidates who get it." [The Washington Post]
Meanwhile, the New York Post's conservative columnist John Podhoretz, who hasn't been called a "RINO" (yet), warned of "Suicide of the Right." He argued that Democrats look bad, but so do Republicans, which is "what my fellow conservatives who are acting as the enablers for irresponsible GOP politicians seem not to understand."
They think that they're supported by a vast silent majority of Americans who dislike what they dislike and want what they want... I dislike what they dislike. I want what they want. But I fear they are very, very wrong about the existence of this silent majority and that their misperception is leading them to do significant damage to the already damaged Republican "brand." [New York Post]
To Andrew Sullivan, the Republican Party is experiencing a "libertarian surge that is now intertwined with the Tea Party and Christianist take-over," and there may not be many Republicans who agree with King and Podhoretz. Veteran journalist Shaun Mullen contends that "the extreme right wing of the Republican Party has engineered a bloodless coup" by trying to win by government shutdown what they failed to win in elections, congressional votes, or in the courts, and end-running majority rule.
It has long seemed that some conservatives have a political death wish, but Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) told Roll Call that Republicans are "absolutely" ready to lose the House rather than raise the debt ceiling without Obama first agreeing to pay a price:
I can assure you, it's not posturing. It's not a political play or anything like that....I mean, they seem to think that we will miss this opportunity for a Braveheart moment to do the right thing for the American people and that we'll back down for fear of losing the House and not gaining control of the Senate. [Roll Call]
The likely outcome? The Prospect's Paul Waldman offers four scenarios: The president caves, a crisis-settling "grand bargain," Boehner allows votes in exchange for a minor concession from Democrats, and the one he considers most likely: Boehner accepts that Republicans have lost and allows a clean vote on government funding and the debt limit.
Many pundits assume it won't really come to debt default, but the Tea Party's consistently obstructionist, brinksmanship behavior brings to mind an old, cautionary saying: "Assume" makes an "ass" of "u" and "me."