A senior White House official told the Wall Street Journal that the administration doesn't really care when the shutdown ends because they're "winning" the PR fight against the GOP. While it's true that Republicans are absorbing more blame than Democrats for the dysfunction, the gap isn't especially wide, especially compared to the 1995 rout. Plus, voters are heaping opprobrium upon all parties involved in the squabble; most people are insisting on compromise -- which isn't helpful to Obama's "no negotiations" stance. The White House must ask itself if the presidentmay be"winning" in relative terms, but losing in absolute terms. A new Associated Press poll shows Congressional approval at five (!) percent, which is almost within the margin of error. The American people, needless to say, are disgusted by the spectacle playing out on Capitol Hill. Despite his efforts to play the role of an above-the-fray, frustrated bystander, Obama is also taking a hit from this mess. As well he should. Between his atrocious leadership on shutdown talks, which he's single-handedly blocked, and the ongoing Obamacare meltdown, Obama's overall job approval has sunk to 37 percent. For perspective, as he prepared to leave office in January of 2009, President Bush's approval rating was 34 percent. This ain't pretty:
Most Americans disapprove of the way Obama is handling his job, the poll suggests, with 53 percent unhappy with his performance and 37 percent approving of it. Congress is scraping rock bottom, with a ghastly approval rating of 5 percent. Indeed, anyone making headlines in the dispute has earned poor marks for his or her trouble, whether it's Democrat Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, or Republican John Boehner, the House speaker, both with a favorability rating of 18 percent.
Nobody is covering themselves in glory here; the ebbing tide of public opinion sinks all ships. Other notable findings from the poll:
- "Sixty-eight percent said the shutdown is a major problem for the country, including majorities of Republicans (58 percent), Democrats (82 percent) and independents (57 percent)."
- "Fifty-two percent said Obama is not doing enough to cooperate with Republicans to end the shutdown; 63 percent say Republicans aren't doing enough to cooperate with him."
- Just three in ten Americans support raising the debt ceiling, which is politically problematic for the president. A recent Bloomberg survey showed that a substantial majority opposes doing so in the "clean" fashion Obama demands.
- More than 80 percent of Americans have felt no effects from shutdown.
The first two bullet points aren't surprising. Nine days in, people oppose this shutdown and are unimpressed with the entire Beltway posse. A recent CBS News poll showed that more than three-fourths of the public want compromise to resolve the impasse. The debt ceiling stat indicates that people are profoundly and rightly concerned about our spiraling national debt, but don't necessarily understand the implications of not extending the government's borrowing authority. This combination of factors is most vexing for Obama, who is associated with debt in the public's mind, and has to convince people of why not hiking the debt limit could be cataclysmic while explaining why he won't negotiate over it. That last item may be the most important number in the whole poll. Despite the administration's appalling efforts (stay tuned for more on those later), the vast majority of Americans haven't experienced any shutdown-associated pain. At this point, the best play for Republicans may be to extract some concessions on the temporary budget -- as Boehner said yesterday, a "unilateral surrender" isn't happening -- then re-open the government with Democrats. These concessions could include a repeal of Obamacare's job-killing medical device tax and an up-or-down vote on the so-called Vitter Amendment. Or maybe something along the lines of Paul Ryan's "grand bargain" proposal, which disappointingly omits any mention of Obamacare. Some conservatives would surely see these as mere scraps and a capitulation, which is the dilemma Boehner and House leadership faces. But as I've been arguing for weeks, Republicans have some, but not much, leverage.
Here's why striking a deal and re-opening the government would benefit conservatism at this stage: We're more than a week into the supposed apocalypse of partial federal shutdown, yet eight in ten Americans are carrying on with their lives, utterly unaffected. That may be because 83 percent of the government has remained open during the shutdown. Once resolved, Republicans could subtlely point out to their constituents that when the "DC disaster" struck, very little changed beyond the egregious stunts pulled by the Obama administration. Asking the public how the shutdown impacted them personally could underscore how over-hyped rhetoric from Democrats in Washington ("terrorists!") has little bearing on the everyday reality of ordinary people. In short, this episode could make average Americans more jaded and nonchalant towards these standoffs. Since the Left tends to lean most heavily on shrill predictions of doom and fear-mongering during budget confrontations, they stand to suffer most from an insouciant electorate. Allowing this shutdown to come...and go...with minimal actual impact may help the cause of limited-government conservatism in the long run. Democrats will squeal, and Americans will roll their eyes. They've heard it all before.