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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Extremism Without Consequences

We interrupt the sober political analysis here at TDS to announce the imminent arrival of a major Teachable Moment. As the president rolls out his executive action on immigration during the next two days, you can expect a reaction from Republicans which will immediately make a mockery of all the “pragmatic grownups eager to get things done” talk of the last couple of weeks. Indeed, congressional Republicans seem to be in the process of talking themselves into precisely the government shutdown they’ve supposedly been so determined to avoid. I discussed the dynamics at Washington Monthly today:

As the engines of the Right-Wing Noise Machine rev themselves up into a high-pitched, chattering whine in anticipation of the Great Tyrannical Amnesty Declaration of 2014, it becomes harder and harder to believe that Republicans are going to resist the temptation to shut down the federal government again. Some of them, of course, are already there. And a lot more are back to the “partial shutdown” position that Ted Cruz tried to sell during his “Defund Obamacare” runup to the 2013 shutdown: the fantasy that Republicans can get Obama blamed for a shutdown if they keep saying they want everything other than the contaminated areas of government to continue.
But by far the more dangerous rationalization was nicely summarized at the Prospect today by Paul Waldman: Republicans don’t think voters will remember what happens now, because they didn’t last time around.

Approval of the Republican party took a nose dive in the wake of the shutdown, and though it is still viewed negatively by most Americans, that didn’t stop Republicans from having a great election day. Because as at least some within the GOP understand, you can create chaos and crisis, and large numbers of voters will conclude not that Republicans are bent on creating chaos and crisis but that “Washington” is broken, and the way to fix it is to elect the people who aren’t in the president’s party. That in this case that happened to be precisely the people who broke it escaped many voters. The fact that the electorate skewed so heavily Republican in an election with the lowest turnout since 1942 also helped them escape the consequences of their behavior.

There’s a very fine line between realizing you’ve escaped the consequences of your behavior and concluding there are no consequences. And once you arrive at that conclusion, you’re the alcoholic who has a drink or two, doesn’t pass out, and decides to celebrate the drinking problem being gone by ordering up a whole bottle.

The more fundamental problem is that the GOP and conservative movement have decided that disabling government is the best way to get to a smaller government, because voters will either blame “the party of government” or the abstraction known as “Washington.” It’s not surprising they view the midterm results as validation of that hypothesis. So we’re very likely to get more of it, right away.

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