The Blog

8 Reasons the Shutdown Won’t Hurt Republicans

10:25 AM, Oct 7, 2013 • By LUCAS THOMPSON
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

The GOP still has to defend its flanks in Kentucky and Georgia, and keep things locked down in Nebraska. A shutdown may narrow the Republican path to a majority, hurting the party’s chances in open seat races in Iowa and Michigan. Like unseating Udall, Franken, and Shaheen in Colorado, Minnesota, and New Hampshire respectively, these uphill battles become tougher if the GOP looks “extreme” to moderate and independent voters. But whatever the shutdown costs Republicans, it’s fair to say it equally threatens the Democratic Senate majority. 

7. Outside groups have more bark than bite – by far. This summer, the Senate Conservatives Fund, along with the little-known Ryun family vehicle the Madison Project, put Mitch McConnell in its cross-hairs. Now ... crickets. Matt Bevin turned out to be a charlatan and the McConnell war chest is breathtaking more than a year out. Efforts to unseat Lamar Alexander have also failed to gain much traction, despite media coverage, in part because he’s a good fundraiser and still connected to his state – unlike former senators Bennett and Lugar from cycles past. Even if Alexander loses to a primary challenger, Tennessee’s Democrats are so demoralized that they probably can’t mount an effective challenge in the general election. After all, they ran a white supremacist against Bob Corker two years ago. Seriously. With Harold Ford Jr. having beaten a fast path out of town, it’s hard to see Tennessee going blue.

Insurgent candidates could make the open seat in Georgia unnecessarily competitive and, if selected in primaries, would put Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota out of reach.  But Larry Rhoden still trails Mike Rounds in South Dakota and Cassidy and Cotton have a unified party behind them. Sound and fury aside, the biggest challenge to a Republican Senate majority comes from capable Democratic incumbents like Landrieu and Begich.  

8. 2016 is an undiscovered country. Talk of the GOP as a regional party without national ambitions is silly. The party will win a pile of electoral votes in the South, High Plains, Mountain West, and Southwest regardless of its candidate. The Democrats can likewise count on New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and the West Coast. Getting to a majority for either party is another question entirely, but Democrats are as much a “regional” party as Republicans.  Regardless, 2016 is a long way away. Winning a series of state elections matters now, irrespective of media attempts to sell copy by starting the presidential horse race early.  

Second, the Democrats have internal cleavages of their own. The 2008 election cycle was the longest, most expensive, and most bruising presidential primary in history. It certainly wasn’t the spectacle that the 2012 GOP primary was, with its endless debates and flash-in-the-pan candidates. But holding the presidency has papered over abiding disagreements between third way Democrats and progressives. A Clinton candidacy will alarm the left. It also directly threatens Obama’s desire to be kingmaker among Democrats for the next two to three decades.  If Clinton decides not to run, it will be open-season, with Biden as a successor as weak as he is obvious. Against this sort of backdrop, the government shutdown will seem distant, even quaint.

Returning to the question about backlash, I’ll ask again: backlash against whom? A shutdown could make a few Senate races more difficult, and, in the worst-case scenario, might even put a few stretch races out of reach. In other words, it comes with a cost. However, the closure will most likely be an issue on the margins, making it incrementally harder for Republicans to win races that the GOP would likely lose anyway. That’s something to think about – but the sky isn’t falling. 

Lucas Thompson is a lecturer and post-doctoral associate at Yale.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 18 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers