The memorable line from Monday's debate about Obamacare?
The president's astonishing declaration that "I shouldn't have to offer anything." Thus did the American public get a very candid glimpse of the president whose contempt for duly elected Republican opponents is exceeded only by his fecklessness in the face of America's enemies abroad. To Putin and the Iranians come offers of all sorts. To the Speaker of the House, only ultimatums.
Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi also had spectacularly bad days for anyone who was watching. Some pundits don't think Harry's gracelessness and Nancy's strident incoherence don't matter, but they are wrong. Americans notice everything, even if they say very little. They are consumers, making up their minds over time.
We forget just how lousy the Big Three Ds are when it comes to communicating, and today's series of pratfalls should remind every Republican why there is great hope for winning the public opinion battle decisively in the days and weeks ahead, and ultimately for 2014.
As I explained over and over on Monday's show, this week's drama over the shutdown is just one chapter in a book titled "November, 2014." We won't know for a long time if the chapter will be pivotal to the end of the story, but we do know that the chapter's title --"I shouldn't have to offer anything"-- is a great ROI for the first day's effort. The president's stunning display of arrogance in his NPR interview is certain to repeat itself again and again if the House GOP holds the line against the combined forces of the Manhattan-Beltway media elite and a handful of GOP pundits who have talked themselves into believing that all the polls about Obamcare will somehow be magically reversed because 4,000 workers at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration don't report for work Tuesday.
I have long been an opponent of a purposeful shutdown strategy and have been predicting for weeks that this is what the president wanted, especially after the Syrian fiasco exposed him as a bumbler abroad as well as at home. Everything he has touched this year has turned to mud, and his hopes for retaking the House in 2014 are all but gone. Many Republicans including me didn't want any strategy that risked losing the political momentum that the president's ineptitude has created.
But Senator Ted Cruz's speech last week turned my view around. He made a very good argument --not perfect, but very, very good-- and the electric reaction to it, pro and con,underscored that Cruz had done the rarest of things: Captured America's attention. That collective attention is so hard to capture that it usually takes a Super Bowl or an Olympics Opening Ceremony, and only presidential debates or election night specials come close to being mega-events in the political category.
You want mega-events when you have an argument to make, and especially when your debate opponent is as inept as the president is. Today Congressman Tom Cotton of Arkansas and a candidate for that state's Senate seat next year appeared on my show three times with updates on the events in the House, and all three times the calls and emails confirmed that he was making points the audience wanted to hear made. Cotton was rallying opinion. He was carrying on the fight the listeners wanted, and this is a great and necessary thing in a country that needs vibrant political parties, not collections of drones doing the bidding of Beltway elites. The Beltway party should follow the wishes of the rank-and-file and if there is one thing that the commentariat can agree on it is that conservative activists want this fight. That may change, but it hasn't changed yet. The Speaker should persist, and he and his team should continue to listen. It is very easy to see political costs inflicted on the GOPers that break ranks, especially if that choice is perceived as having been made to appease opinion elites.
I am not happy with the decision of the House leadership not to send the Senate "single-subject" CRs since it makes the messaging and record-building harder to accomplish. I would love to see a single subject CR on the Medical Device Tax, for example, as a Senate vote to table that would make it impossible for Senate Democrats who claimed to be against the tax in a non-binding vote in the spring to avoid the flip flop charge if they voted against repeal now. When the tax repeal vote is combined with a delay vote, however, an out is given those same Senate Democrats that will surface in 12 months. So much of this week's events is about a year from now that my lens is adjusted for that time span. Some folks care about next week's polling. I care about next year's, and single subject CRs would help. Perhaps the House leadership will unveil them Tuesday.
However the tactics unfold, the strategy of indelibly defining both the GOP and the Democrats for 2014 must be front and center. Some very smart people like the Washington Post's Jen Rubin think this series of events is defining the GOP negatively. Perhaps she is right and the GOP is deeply injuring itself. I confess I thought the same of the Panama Canal fight in 1978 when I was just leaving college. Then-candidate Ronald Reagan knew better. He was building a movement by being right on an issue at the same time as being visible on an issue. That battle from 35 years ago is a very good example to keep in mind this week, especially when the GOPers genuinely concerned about hurting the chances of retaining the majority in 2014 set sail to their fears.
What is unfortunate about this debate is that the GOP critics of having it feel there is mileage in attacking GOPrs with whom they disagree, often in intensely personal terms. As I noted in a tweet early in the day, if breaking the 11th Commandment required going to Confession, the line would be long indeed. But it doesn't, and indeed there is some small award in some small attention being paid to the uber-critics of Cruz et al.
This will be short-lived satisfaction. Attacking the people attacking Obamacare with everything the various pundits have got is not good politics. It is certainly not statesmanlike. Sticking with the Party is what is necessary now, the same message I will deliver to anyone disappointed with the end game. You only get one quarterback at a time. If they don't win, you can change the QB. There is no upside in turning on him mid-game.
The QB right now is John Boehner. He gave a very good speech on the floor in the early evening on Monday. Good for him. Many others made excellent remarks. Good for them as well. Many folks think the GOP is behind in the debate and in the overall chain of events, but like John Kerry's "I was for the war before I was against it" pratfall, the key moments in this very important debate won't be clear for a long time, though the president's "I shouldn't have to offer anything" homage to absolutism is certain to be among them.
The president, Harry and Nancy are hanging themselves as we speak, nailing their colors to the mast of Obamacare. Let the government stay shuttered for a week and that message sink in. Only good will come of it. But if the House GOP breaks and runs, well, there will be Hell to pay.