In a normal political environment, the GOP’s grip on the House is effectively unbreakable. Thanks to a congressional map disproportionately tilted in its favor, the party holds only 17 districts that President Obama won last year. In fact, Republicans were strongly positioned to add to their 17-seat majority during next year’s midterms: The Cook Political Report lists nine Democratic incumbents who represent toss-up districts. Republicans have only two. But failing to raise the debt limit, a scenario financial experts warn will cause a default on the country’s debts and worldwide economic panic, would make 2014 anything but a normal political year. And even as House Republicans contemplate a six-week debt-limit extension, both sides remain far apart on a long-term deal, meaning the threat of default is unlikely to abate any time soon.
Few Democrats or Republicans believe the government shutdown will hand Democrats control of the House, but a default is different. GOP operatives warn it’s the kind of politics-changing event that would threaten even the most hardened of majorities. “Any party who thinks their majority is bulletproof is bound to find out that is not the case,” said one GOP consultant with ties to the business community, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly.
The risk to Republicans hinges on two eventualities: The repercussions of a debt-limit crisis are severe, and Republicans receive most of the blame. On the former, there’s widespread agreement: Allowing the United States to default on its obligations would be catastrophic. The consequences would be far more disastrous than a government shutdown, which, while damaging, doesn’t threaten to send interest rates skyrocketing or 401(k) plans plummeting. “In the midst of this fiscal challenge, the ongoing political uncertainty over the budget and the debt ceiling does not help,” said Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund. “The government shutdown is bad enough, but failure to raise the debt ceiling would be far worse, and could very seriously damage not only the U.S. economy, but the entire global economy.”
Whether Republicans would receive the bulk of the blame is not certain, of course, but it looks like a good bet. A spate of recent polls about the shutdown suggest that not only do more people blame the GOP than the Democrats for government dysfunction, they’re also growing increasingly frustrated with the party. The public’s approval of Obama’s role in the shutdown standoff has actually risen, from 41 percent to 45 percent, according to one ABC News/Washington Post survey taken in late September and another one in early October. Meanwhile, in the October poll, 70 percent of adults said they disapprove of congressional Republicans’ conduct during the negotiations, including 51 percent who said they strongly disapprove. That’s a 7-point jump from the previous survey. Similarly, a Gallup Poll released Wednesday showed the Republican Party’s approval rating sinking to a record low of 28 percent, down from 38 percent in September.
The politics of the shutdown aren’t a perfect match for the debt ceiling’s — for one thing, polls show most Americans oppose the kind of “clean” debt-limit increase Democrats have demanded. But Republicans know the public has blamed them for these fights before, and if the ceiling is breached, party leaders are bracing for more backlash. As one Republican strategist said, it’s the “lighter fluid” that could set off a political inferno next year. “If we’re still talking about this in January and February “¦ then I will believe this was the kind of catastrophic event that started the downward spiral,” the insider said.
Not all Republicans share that fear. Some argue that if default occurs, the fallout will be just as bad or worse for congressional Democrats and Obama. The president is in charge, and he has yet to avert a crisis. People blamed the Great Depression on Herbert Hoover, didn’t they? “It would have massive repercussions in both party’s elections, but I also think we’ve got to get back to understanding that the Republican argument is, “˜Obama won’t negotiate,’ “ said Guy Harrison, a former executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “I don’t think that’s a good place for him to be.”
A single event, even one as consequential as defaulting on the debt, is never guaranteed to make or break a majority more than a year before an election. But holding onto the House in 2014 shouldn’t be the GOP’s only concern. A default could thwart the party from winning a Senate majority, and House Democrats could still make significant, if not majority-making, gains. That alone would be noteworthy because midterms historically favor the party that doesn’t control the White House, and a strong 2014 showing would position the Democrats to retake the chamber during the 2016 races.But the bigger, long-term problem is the effect the dual crises of a shutdown and default would have on the Republican Party’s image, which only nine months ago almost everyone in the GOP agreed needed a major makeover. The twin disasters would reinforce the public’s worst perceptions of the party: It’s extremist, obstructionist, and incapable of governing. “What are the Republicans’ strengths going to be?” asked the GOP operative with ties to the business community. “Perception is, Republicans understand the free market, so if we take a hit on the debt ceiling, that obviously undercuts that narrative.”
Losing the House majority is bad enough. But another White House defeat in 2016 is a nightmare no Republican wants to face.
- 1 The Rising Stars to Watch at the Democratic National Convention
- 2 Trump gets bounce from convention and now it’s Clinton’s turn
- 3 On Convention’s First Night, Bernie Sanders and His Supporters Upstage Clinton
- 4 The Gender Politics of Pence’s Governor Pick
- 5 Can Hillary Clinton Succeed on the Hill Where Obama Didn’t?
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Instead of his usual stump speech, Bernie Sanders tonight threw his support behind Hillary Clinton, providing a clear contrast between Clinton and GOP nominee Donald Trump on the many issues he used to discuss in his campaign stump speeches. Sanders spoke glowingly about the presumptive Democratic nominee, lauding her work as first lady and as a strong advocate for women and the poor. “We need leadership in this country which will improve the lives of working families, the children, the elderly, the sick and the poor,” he said. “Hillary Clinton will make a great president, and I am proud to stand with her tonight."
In a stark contrast from Michelle Obama's uplifting speech, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke about the rigged system plaguing Americans before launching into a full-throated rebuke of GOP nominee Donald Trump. Trump is "a man who has never sacrificed anything for anyone," she claimed, before saying he "must never be president of the United States." She called him divisive and selfish, and said the American people won't accept his "hate-filled America." In addition to Trump, Warren went after the Republican Party as a whole. "To Republicans in Congress who said no, this November the American people are coming for you," she said.
"In this election, and every election, it's about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives," Michelle Obama said. "There is only one person who I trust with that responsibility … and that is our friend Hillary Clinton." In a personal and emotional speech, Michelle Obama spoke about the effect that angry oppositional rhetoric had on her children and how she chose to raise them. "When they go low, we go high," Obama said she told her children about dealing with bullies. Obama stayed mostly positive, but still offered a firm rebuke of Donald Trump, despite never once uttering his name. "The issues a president faces cannot be boiled down to 140 characters," she said.
Many Bernie Sanders delegates have spent much of the first day of the Democratic National Convention resisting unity, booing at mentions of Hillary Clinton and often chanting "Bernie! Bernie!" Well, one of the most outspoken Bernie Sanders supporters just told them to take a seat. "To the Bernie-or-bust people: You're being ridiculous," said comedian Sarah Silverman in a brief appearance at the Convention, minutes after saying that she would proudly support Hillary Clinton for president.
The Democratic National Committee issued a formal apology to Bernie Sanders today, after leaked emails showed staffers trying to sabotage his presidential bid. "On behalf of everyone at the DNC, we want to offer a deep and sincere apology to Senator Sanders, his supporters, and the entire Democratic Party for the inexcusable remarks made over email," DNC officials said in the statement. "These comments do not reflect the values of the DNC or our steadfast commitment to neutrality during the nominating process. The DNC does not—and will not—tolerate disrespectful language exhibited toward our candidates."