What Are Conservatives Thinking?

Counting down to shutdown with one cheerful, eager Republican.

PHOENIX, AZ - NOVEMBER 2: Republican Representative-elect David Schweikert addresses the crowd during an Arizona Republican Party election night event at the Hyatt Regency November 2, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. Schweikert defeated two-term Democratic Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ) for the 5th Congressional District. 
National Journal
Tim Alberta
Oct. 1, 2013, 9:31 a.m.

It was mere mo­ments be­fore the gov­ern­ment shut­down, and Rep. Dav­id Sch­weikert looked like a man without a care in the world.

The minutes tick­ing to­ward mid­night, the Ari­zona Re­pub­lic­an stood in statu­ary hall and searched for words to de­scribe his emo­tions. It quickly be­came ap­par­ent that neither re­gret nor reti­cence was any­where to be found. In­stead, it was something like eager­ness ““ even ex­cite­ment ““ that best cap­tured the con­gress­man’s spir­it.

“I know it’s not com­fort­able for a lot of people here, but this is how it’s sup­posed to work,” Sch­weikert told Na­tion­al Journ­al, his eyes wide and his smile broad­en­ing.

“It’s sup­posed to be can­tan­ker­ous. It’s sup­posed to be this con­stant grind­ing.”

It’s sup­posed to lead to a gov­ern­ment shut­down?

“Well, the one thing that isn’t work­ing the way it’s sup­posed to, is there’s sup­posed to be a sense of con­stant ne­go­ti­ation — you’re con­stantly work­ing a deal,” said Sch­weikert, a former county treas­urer and state rep­res­ent­at­ive. “And this is un­like any deal­ing ex­per­i­ence I’ve ever had — in my county gov­ern­ment, my le­gis­lature, even my pre­vi­ous couple of years here.”

The dif­fer­ence, Sch­weikert ex­plained: “We get noth­ing from the oth­er side.”

Mo­ments earli­er, a pre­ces­sion of House Demo­crat­ic of­fi­cials — led by Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi — had trudged slowly in­to the cor­ridor with a cho­reo­graphed gloom and settled around the mi­cro­phones. There, they pro­ceeded to ring in the shut­down and re­buke Re­pub­lic­ans for their “planned” shut­ter­ing of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment.

Sch­weikert, a con­ser­vat­ive elec­ted in the 2010 tea party wave, strode cas­u­ally in­to the Cap­it­ol’s hal­lowed hall, a dis­cern­ible spring in his step. Asked to ex­plain his good spir­its, Sch­weikert hin­ted that earli­er that day he, too, was anxious about the loom­ing shut­down. But then, he said, an el­ev­enth-hour ex­per­i­ence re­plen­ished his op­tim­ism.

“I just held a mini-tele­phone town hall an hour ago, with a ran­dom dial,” Sch­weikert said, lean­ing in and rub­bing his palms to­geth­er. “I’m from a fairly con­ser­vat­ive dis­trict so it’s not a real good sampling. But it was in­ter­est­ing. Some­how, they figured it out.”

Figured what out?

“They’re pissed at the Sen­ate.”

How’s that?

“I think something the left might not have cal­cu­lated is: This one ain’t like the oth­ers,” Sch­weikert said, re­fer­ring to the string of fisc­al fights that has con­sumed Con­gress since 2010. “A lot of folks, with the health care law, they’re fear­ful that it af­fects their pock­et­book.”

Sch­weikert and oth­er GOP law­makers have grown ac­cus­tomed to re­ceiv­ing mixed re­views dur­ing vari­ous spend­ing dis­putes, even in their right-lean­ing dis­tricts. But the con­stitu­ents Sch­weikert spoke with around 11 p.m. Monday were over­whelm­ingly sup­port­ive, he said. And moreover, the vast ma­jor­ity of them blamed the shut­down drama on Demo­crats’ re­fus­al to budge on Obama­care.

“I think they may have screwed up,” Sch­weikert whispered, nod­ding his head. “There’s a hand­ful of sen­at­ors who may have just made a vote that ends their ca­reers.”

Sch­weikert is but one rep­res­ent­at­ive, yet his per­spect­ive en­cap­su­lates the con­ser­vat­ive dis­pos­i­tion in the days lead­ing up to Sept. 30. Armed with these two self-as­sur­ing sen­ti­ments ““ bot­tom­less sup­port from their con­stitu­ents, and sub­sequent ex­on­er­a­tion from blame ““ con­ser­vat­ives have grown em­boldened to the point where they are push­ing their chips to the middle of the table and bet­ting on the de­mise of Pres­id­ent Obama’s health care law.

Sch­weikert was ut­terly cereb­ral in the minutes be­fore the first gov­ern­ment shut­down in 17 years, and maybe a little bit en­thu­si­ast­ic. Not be­cause it doesn’t have real-world rami­fic­a­tions and not be­cause he wanted to see a shut­down. But be­cause Sch­weikert and oth­er con­ser­vat­ives feel great about the gamble they are tak­ing — and feel no pres­sure to fold their hand now.

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