Will Gov't Shutdown Come Back to Haunt Republicans in Elections?

October 22, 2013 05:37 AM

Via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Not a question of if, but how much.

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

There is a relatively long time between now and 2014 elections. Republicans up for election in 2014 – and potential candidates in 2016 – are hoping Americans as usual will have a short attention span.


Polls show the majority of Americans blame Republicans for the recent partial government shutdown. Before the shutdown began on Oct. 1, some younger Republicans not around the last time (1995-96) the Republican Party led a shutdown said, "But this time it is different." It wasn't. Finally some grownups in the party took the lead, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) being one of the grownups. Of course he is now being criticized by extreme conservative groups in his state, and the longtime senator is in a contentious primary race that won't be decided until May 20. The GOP in recent elections have turned would-be victories into defeat, and it could happen again in Kentucky and several others states where leaders in the party are being faulted for "giving in" in reaching a consensus. That is the shape of the Republican Party now.


While the 2014 elections cannot be considered a "wave" election yet, many Americans in more than a few states I have visited lately are vocally very upset with Washington, Congress, the White House, with a lot of the disgust directed at extreme elements in both parties, but a decided tilt of anger toward conservative Republicans.


A potentially important development occurred this week that shows veteran Republicans are aghast at their party's behavior. The former two-term Republican governor of Kansas who now heads the American Trucking Associations (ATA) is urging the group to rethink its ties to House Republicans because of the influence of tea party conservatives. Bill Graves told industry executives Monday that they should be ready to shift their support to Democrats following the 16-day government shutdown and with a major infrastructure legislative agenda ahead. His remarks followed the US Chamber of Commerce signaling it will consider supporting "pragmatic" candidates in primary elections, to help get Washington past the confrontational politics. The trucking industry faces a major challenge getting a highway and transit bill through Congress before last year’s surface transportation authorization (PL 112-141) expires in September 2014.


The ATA favors raising fuel taxes, an issue that is expected to prompt stiff opposition from conservatives. "Our position in support of a fuel tax increase is absolutely the right position to take —and everyone on Capitol Hill knows it — they all know it," Graves said. "(Former Transportation Secretary) Ray LaHood always knew it, the president knows it, every member of Congress knows it, we’re just fighting the plague of intellectual amnesia that’s overwhelmed Washington on this and so many other issues. I believe it will eventually get done. Tolls aren’t the answer. Raiding an already empty general fund isn’t the answer. Devolving to the states isn’t the answer. We all know the answer — but it will only happen when there’s a change in the political winds on Capitol Hill."


Graves criticized the no-compromise stance of tea party-affiliated GOP lawmakers. "Many of the traditional allegiances the business community has had with the Republican Party are necessarily going to need to be re-evaluated," Graves said. In his State of the Industry address, Graves said that "if I was your political broker, my advice would be that you sell your Republican shares and buy the Democrats."


Disneyland characters in Washington – the Disneyland of the East. Graves made the comments at an annual meeting of members, who are executives of trucking companies, in Orlando, Florida. His speech pulled no punches. In a reference to nearby Disney World, he said some trucking CEOs "have mentioned that you were a little confused upon arrival in Orlando — as it’s a city that’s full of characters with names like Goofy, Daffy, Dopey, Grumpy, Sleepy, Tweedledee and Tweedledum — and you mistakenly thought you’d traveled to Washington. ... Take some comfort in knowing that all the cartoon characters that reside here can’t harm our economy or your business. And unlike Washington’s bunch of characters, the ones in Orlando are actually supposed to act that way."


Graves noted that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was signaling it will consider supporting "pragmatic" candidates in primary elections, to help get Washington past the confrontational politics of recent years. He said there is "merit" in advocating for smaller government debt and less regulatory control, but he decried a "collapse" of the Republican Party with its conservative wing's "emergence as a very corrosive force."


Comments: While most election experts gave the Democrats very low odds of garnering the net gain of 17 seats needed to regain the House in 2014, their commentary after the shutdown isn't so brave. While most still think the odds of a turnover in the House are low, those odds are rising nonetheless. The GOP arch conservatives surely wouldn't force another shutdown in early 2014 would they? No one has been able to call the mismanaged party of late, so nothing should be ruled out. But if that were to occur, a wave election is likely after all – and it would usher in more Democratic members than anyone currently thinks. And several moderate GOP senators are probably wondering whether or not conservative groups are going to set up a primary challenge for them come 2014. If so, the Democrats could get a true working majority faster than most now think.


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