Impacts of budget, debt mess

D.C. insiders are all atwitter about the impact of the shutdown and debt-limit mess on public opinion and partisan fortunes in the next round of elections.

The thumbnail summary seems to be that everyone gets hurt — the president, Democrats and Republicans — but the Republicans get the worst of it.

The latter part of that conclusion seems mostly like wishful thinking to me.

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When there are no winners, trying to identify the worst loser is an exercise without meaning. From my perspective, it seems like a waste of time to parse through today’s polls in search of something meaningful. Today’s polls are really secondary to what comes next: the consequences that will influence polls taken in 2014 and 2016.

The most significant impact I am seeing is that the business community — internationally, nationally and locally — has been awakened from a long hibernation when it comes to politics and politicians.

Most businessmen and women gave up on politicians several chapters back. They didn’t worry about it because politics didn’t seem to go anywhere that had any impact on their world.

But the latest round of controversy is rife with real-world impacts on things like interest rates, stock prices, sales revenue and other big-boy stuff that affects titans of industry.

So what are they going to do?

Most importantly, I think that the business community is going to wade into select races again in dramatic ways, with record political action committee (PAC) dollars, daring endorsements and high-tech digital grassroots campaigning among employees and stakeholders like consumers, vendors and investors.

Candidates who grimaced at the prospect of a probing pre-election interview by their local Tea Party or union are going to feel like they have been in for a colonoscopy without benefit of sedation when they get their once-over from the business interrogators. PACs and CEOs are going to want specifics, details and particulars.

Vague generalities won’t satisfy. And the C-suite crowd has the muscle to retaliate if the answers and post-election actions aren’t right. This won’t necessarily mean that business interests are back in the political game for good. I doubt they are. It’s just too irrelevant too much of the time. But they are going to wade in to set the ship of state aright before they disappear again.

The current fiscal morass will also affect the field of candidates, even before the business guys get wound up. I’m predicting a lot of last-minute retirements of incumbents who just cannot abide the simultaneous high-stakes pressure and low-level depression that punctuate the ridiculous goings-on of Capitol Hill.

And even though it’s too late in many states to rev up new pro-business candidacies, there are enough states with post-spring primaries in 2014 to change the collective face of the next round of elections. There are a lot of angry ex-CEOs out there that will step up in December through February to launch campaigns, offering to change the climate in Washington.

As for the impact of this fall’s events on voters, it’s hardest to predict. I don’t think that their reaction will particularly reward or punish either party. Rather, the impact might have more to do with turnout and activism, like donations.

Will Republican direct-mail wizards use this fight to reap a fortune in donations?

Will Democrat GOTV strategists be empowered to unleash the Obama turnout machine for Democrat candidates? Or by next fall, will this just be a sadly forgotten moment in time, replaced in the public consciousness by some other current event?

Seems possible to me. The wild card is whether the Congress kicks too many of these economic cans down the road or locks them all in now. The longer this dysfunction continues, the closer we get to influencing ordinary voters in the next general election.


Hill is a pollster who has worked for Republican campaigns and causes since 1984.