How the Tea Party is claiming victory after the government shutdown

Most people are calling the 16-day government shutdown a disaster for the GOP and its Tea Party wing. Tea Partiers disagree.

Ted Cruz
(Image credit: (Andrew Burton/Getty Images))

In most tellings of the government shutdown and the debt default flirtation of 2013, President Obama and the Democrats got nearly everything they asked for and the Republican Party got next to nothing. Or worse than nothing: ObamaCare, despite the botched rollout of its online insurance mall, is more entrenched than ever and less unpopular, and the GOP's favorability ratings have hit historic lows in several polls.

That's not how Tea Party Republicans are telling it.

After the Wednesday morning House GOP meeting where House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) declared that his caucus had "fought the good fight" but lost, says Jonathan Strong at National Review, "most of the top conservatives who pushed the House GOP into an ObamaCare fight weren't very introspective, offering positive words about the fight and hope for victories to come."

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It was "a remarkable victory to see the House engage in a profile of courage," insisted Tea Party champion Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who fielded questions from reporters even as the Senate bill was announced.

Such behavior is not too surprising, says David Weigel at Slate. "Human beings have been putting their best spin on defeats since the invention of 'winning' and 'losing,'" so of course Tea Party Republicans "are going to look for the Alamo underneath the rubble of this loss." In fact, "some Republicans were declaring a victory of sorts":

They had revealed President Obama to be a cynical political operator. They had proved to voters that they did everything they could to stop ObamaCare. When the next spending fight comes around, they insisted that enduring this shutdown would strengthen their position. [Slate]

Weigel rounded up some quotes from supporters of the GOP shutdown strategy:

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.): "I think this exposed the president and made clear to the public that he's unwilling to compromise.... There's going to be a lot of focus over the next few months about the failures of ObamaCare. It'll help Republicans because we stood up and fought — and there's nobody who can blame Republicans, at this point, for ObamaCare. We did what we could."

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho): "I actually think we wouldn't have been able to highlight the mistakes of the [] rollout without the government shutdown.... Every major newspaper would have relegated it to A7 or A8. Now it's on the front page of every newspaper."

Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.): During the 16-day shutdown, "most Americans probably thought, 'Wait a minute, I thought this was supposed to be cataclysmic.' Like with sequestration — we were told the sun wouldn't come out the next morning, and it did. It was much ado about not a lot."

If House Republicans are declaring tentative wins, some conservative commentators are declaring all-out victory. It may sound "quite delusional to many people, particularly here in Washington," says Keith Koffler at White House Dossier, but the Tea Party was "both sensible and victorious" in this battle. They are merely reminding people, he insists, that America is already in a financial crisis, and is "unable to pay our bills without the help of communist Chinese bureaucrats."

The Tea Party, with its willingness to demand a stop to this freak show by shuttering the government and halting debt payments, is revolutionary, but not radical. Because sometimes revolutionary action is the reasonable course.... The Tea Party is making a stand. The pundits will say... that the Tea Party has been defeated today. But to the extent conservatives have revived a movement, drawn attention to the problem, and even forced a president with his eye on the next deadline into negotiations, there will be victory in defeat. [White House Dossier]

Jonah Goldberg at National Review is less certain, but open to the possibility that there's at least a silver lining for Tea Partiers. "Perhaps raising awareness about ObamaCare alone was worth it," he says. "Maybe hammering home the message that the GOP is foursquare against ObamaCare — and that ObamaCare is a disaster — is a sufficiently valuable long-term message that it was worth going through all of this."

Even some more neutral sources, like USA Today, are scoring the Tea Party and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) — one of the key proponents of the shutdown strategy — as winners. They may have failed to dent ObamaCare, says USA Today's Susan Page, but "there were payoffs for the conservative movement."

"Their base is as riled up as it's ever been, and they're raising record amounts of money," Patrick Griffin, the Clinton White House's chief congressional liaison, tells USA Today.

As for Cruz, the freshman senator has "emerged as the clear standard-bearer for the movement, a boost to his possible bid for the presidential nomination in 2016," says Page. His poll numbers have taken a big hit among the general population, but "Cruz's favorable rating among Tea Party supporters in the Pew poll shot up to 74 percent, from 47 percent in June."

Cruz himself spent Wednesday pointing fingers at his Republican colleagues, blaming their criticisms of his tactics for sinking the GOP's chances to defund ObamaCare. "In defeat, Cruz sounds insane to his detractors — and his claim that the country was rallying to his position is refuted by all reputable metrics," says John Dickerson at Slate. But oddly enough, Cruz's gambit gets some validation from instances of Obama's leadership. Dickerson explains:

Triumphant leadership can often appear to be on the verge of certain doom moments before it succeeds. The best proof of this also comes from Obama's leadership playbook: See Syria gambit. Before Cruz defined what it meant to blunder ahead without a plan, President Obama was refining that approach with his Syria policy. In that case, the president's highly unpopular threat of military strikes, headed for a big defeat in Congress, was averted at the 11th hour by a surprise Russian intervention that led the Syrians to promise disarmament....

Following that lucky logic, it's possible to envision a scenario where Cruz's long-shot effort to delay ObamaCare could have been given a boost when the rollout of was so bad it seemed to ratify every Republican doubt over ObamaCare not being ready for prime time. It didn't matter that Cruz's campaign was so clearly doomed you could tell from outer space. For men of ambition and deeply held views, there is little to distinguish between success and total failure when you are in the thick of the fight, guided only by the righteousness of your cause. [Slate]

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