Paul Jacob

It’s happening inside the Senate as well. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a Tea Party favorite, has been actively battling big-government colleagues. After the Delaware GOP primary provided yet another incumbent scalp, DeMint was asked if his principled campaign might not hurt Republican chances of gaining a Senate majority.“I came into the Senate with 55 Republicans, and I’m afraid that not enough of them believed in free-market capitalism and limited government,” DeMint replied. “I want to make sure that if we’re trusted again, that this time we do what we promise. And we can’t do that with the same people who created the problem.”

Furthermore, the fastest rising GOP star, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, has shown that fiscal responsibility — actual budget-cutting — is popular. Even in a blue state. Christie explains that reducing spending is “not easy” because “it’s hard to say no.” But he adds, “If Republicans win the Congress we’ve got to put up or shut up.”

But, what about the Democrats?

The last time congressional Republicans, buoyed by an influx of new blood and a new majority, tried to force a reduced increase in federal spending, the Democrats won. How? By blaming the budget impasse on Republicans, and having an almost universally supportive media agree that those darn Republicans are deserving of all the blame.

So, reading the media tea leaves, the GOP congressional leadership blinked, caving-in to Bill Clinton. Clinton went on to win a second term; Republicans in Congress went on to cave in to everyone else they bumped into at the trough.

Can the back-room brains in the White House resist replaying that 16-year-old gambit?

Just as Republicans seek to portray Democrats as supporting government as the answer for every problem, Democrats attempt to paint Republicans as anti-government anarchists. A government shutdown, or even a big controversy over a possible shutdown, might serve the PR narrative of Democrats far better than that of Republicans.

What to do?

Congressional Republicans should consider three simple facts:

   1. Their base of support (including swing voters) will remain awake throughout the next cycle and fully expect them to keep their word to cut runaway government spending.

   2. The media is still largely in the tank for Democrats. That includes every TV network other than Fox as well as virtually every single newspaper in the country. But Fox and the Internet mean that a message of fiscal sanity can indeed compete in the media despite all the Democrats’ cries of wolf and interest group’s pleas of “Where’s my subsidy check?”

   3. The Democrats will suffer far more damage in a prolonged government shutdown than Republicans, because their base supporters are far more dependent on the continued splurging of federal funds than are GOP supporters.

The goal is not a shutdown, of course, but a fiscally sound budget. What is needed is the guts to fight for it. In short, the advice for this week’s GOP victors is: “Have a spot of tea. And don’t blink.”

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.