It's clear to all but the most blinkered that the "Defund Now!" strategy for blocking the implementation of Obamacare has been worse than a failure. Obamacare will be funded, but the fight has exacerbated the already low standing of the Republican Party. Obama's approval rating has ticked up during the shutdown, while Republicans are now competing with the Taliban in approval.
Architects of the shutdown plan assured us that when Republicans took a stand on principle, the voters would be impressed. The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed that 51 percent of respondents believe the president is putting his own political agenda ahead of what's best for the country. Pretty good? Not really. Seventy percent say that about congressional Republicans.
As for Obamacare, 38 percent now say the law is a good idea, up from 31 percent last month. Translation: If Republicans oppose it, voters assume it must have heretofore undiscovered virtues. If this keeps up, Democratic donors can close their wallets and permit Republicans to make the case for Democratic candidates.
Conservative activists such as Michael Needham of Heritage Action, which advocated and helped fund the defund strategy, assure us that they are not partisan. Needham told Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal " ... There is nothing in my mission statement that says anything about the Republican Party. Our mission is to advance the conservative agenda. We are nonpartisan and we really mean it."
That's obvious. As someone who has attempted, in my small way, for many years to advance conservative ideas, I would love to see the nation embrace what we believe. I'd also like an unknown billionaire to leave me his fortune in a bequest. But the experiment of the last two weeks should demonstrate conclusively that shouting and stamping feet does not avail, nor does disdaining the fortunes of the Republican Party.
For all its flaws, the GOP remains the only vehicle for advancing conservative ideas in practice, and it is the only possible vehicle for saving this country from the truly awful consequences of Democratic governance. If the Republican Party loses all purchase with voters, Democrats will do to America what they've done to Detroit, Philadelphia, and Chicago. The health of conservatism cannot be decoupled from the standing of the Republican Party, and it is not too much to say that the welfare of the nation depends upon the Republicans gaining ground electorally. It is therefore self-indulgent and even irresponsible to say, "I'm a conservative, but I'm not a Republican."