By Judd Gregg - 10/07/13 10:00 AM EDT
After roughly a week of the government shutdown, most of the negative fallout is landing on the heads of the Republicans, as many of us predicted it would.
A small group of Republican legislators led by the junior senator from Texas, decided to take as hostages government operations and the raising of the debt ceiling. The price of release was to be the death of ObamaCare.
This approach never had a snowball’s chance in Texas of succeeding, since two-thirds of the government — the Senate and the presidency — are controlled by people who are totally invested in instituting ObamaCare. But this salient fact did not appear to be in the script these Republicans were acting out.
This oversight might, just possibly, be related to the significant amount of money raised by these folks for PACs they controlled. Meanwhile, the liberal elements of the media were more than happy to use the actions of a few to caricature the entire Republican Party as dysfunctional and chaotic.
Next came a game-plan that assumed the opening of the government could be done piecemeal. First defense would be funded, then veterans’ affairs, then the parks and so forth. But this tactic once again seemed to be inherently self-defeating. By the end of the day, one would have essentially ended up with the kind of clean continuing resolution to which these folks had earlier claimed to be totally opposed.
Thus, without gaining a thing, the Republican Party was being told by this small cadre of self-proclaimed purifiers of the body politic that they would end up where they started, but did not want to start or be. From a strategic point of view, the whole thing was a confusing mess.
Alongside all of this breast-beating, there was a parallel course of attack being pursued by the posse.
It was not directed at ObamaCare or its authors in the Democratic Party but rather at all Republicans who questioned the logic of the ordained.
Using the funds that were pouring into their PACs, the folks who had settled on the strategy of trying to kill ObamaCare through closing the government and potentially defaulting on the debt turned their fire on fellow Republican members of Congress. More specifically, they attacked any of those Republican members who pointed out the inherent defects of the strategy and suggested that a better course would be to get real deficit reduction as the price of the battle — a goal with at least some likelihood of success.
Actions like this are difficult to explain. Divide and conquer as an approach has never actually been executed in this manner. This is more of a shout-and-disrupt approach. There has not been, nor will there be, any resulting action that has a constructive impact on governance, or limits the growth of government, or slows ObamaCare.
One of the ironies of all this is the distraction the shutdown created from the failures of ObamaCare. It was a foolish time to pick this fight. ObamaCare went into effect right in the middle of the shutdown. The first-day failures of the system, which should have been highlighted, were almost entirely obscured by the unwinnable debate over the government closure.
What a tactical fiasco it has been for the Republicans, especially those who really do want to change ObamaCare and address our debt issues rather than just raise money and control the microphone.
The Democratic Party in the ’70s went through a period of being led around by a bunch of folks who were incredibly self-destructive to the effectiveness to the party, and who almost destroyed its ability to govern and speak to a majority of the American people.
In time, other members of the party, led by Bill Clinton and the centrist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), righted their boat and got them back on course.
The Republican Party is fast approaching the same sort of test.
People who have no interest in governing cannot be allowed to be the dominant voices in a major party. Any such party must by definition be inclusive, within the basic bounds of its ideology. If it is to succeed, the majority of the American people must see it as serious and constructive.
The Republican Party is not in that place today. It had better get there soon if it plans to be an effective force for fiscal responsibility, rather than just a gathering place for gadflies, PAC funders and base-narrowers.
Judd Gregg is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee. He is the CEO of SIFMA, a financial industry lobbying group.