10/01/2013 12:20 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Boehner Hammers Last Nail in Republican Coffin

Speaker of the House John Boehner has apparently just let the House of Representatives go home for the night, even though there's an hour left before the federal 2013 fiscal year ends (as of this writing). This guarantees at least a short-term partial shutdown of the federal government. Irony of ironies, however: the shutdown will not actually affect the Obamacare insurance exchanges, which will open on time tomorrow as planned. Meaning the whole "defund Obamacare" point of principle the shutdown supposedly hinges on won't actually be achieved by the shutdown. This basic truth was, as usual, completely ignored by most of the mainstream media who have spent the last week, instead, salivating over the prospect of a knock-down political fight.

Tea Party Republicans in the House are convinced they're going to win this battle... somehow. They're convinced that, number one, the American public will blame President Obama and the Democrats for the shutdown; and, number two, that they'll magically convince Democrats to stop defending the president's signature legislative achievement by shutting the government down. Neither is going to happen, but that is indeed what they fervently believe -- in the same fashion that Republicans believed all those 2012 public opinion polls were "skewed" and that Romney would (again "...somehow...") handily win the election. To put it another way, it's a matter of faith to them.

Of course, the Tea Partiers (most of them) weren't around back when Newt Gingrich shut the government down in a battle of wills with President Clinton. They consider the fears that Republicans will once again pay a political price for such a maneuver to be overblown. They have convinced themselves of this because "that was before Fox News was around" and, somehow, the country was different back in the 1990s in some sort of fundamental way that is no longer true now.

Maybe, but then again, maybe not. The approval rating for Congress has dropped in half within the past month -- from 20 percent approval to a dismal 10 percent. And that's before the news of the shutdown broke. One way or another, we're about to see who is right in the "blame game" battle. My humble guess is that most Americans are feeling nothing but disgust right now, but whether it'll translate into anything meaningful in the 2014 midterm congressional elections or not is entirely up in the air. Right now, "a pox on both your houses" might more accurately sum up the public's feelings.

The House of Representatives has now voted something like 45 times to kill Obamacare. The Obamacare exchanges will -- nonetheless -- go into operation tomorrow. Millions of people who have been waiting to purchase affordable health insurance will have the opportunity to do so when tomorrow dawns. The news of how the exchanges are working will be competing with the "government shuts down" stories tomorrow -- showing the irrationality of the "line in the sand" Republicans have just drawn. From tomorrow onwards, Republicans will be fighting to deny benefits that people have already signed up for -- which is a powerful thing. This is what Republicans truly fear most -- not that everyone in the country is going to start hating Obamacare tomorrow, but that increasing numbers of people are going to be helped by it, are going to see benefits from it, and are going to start supporting the whole Obamacare concept. Which is why Republicans are fighting so hard against it, in what they see as their last chance to argue against unknown future scariness, versus the tangible reality that will start tomorrow.

I must admit that I, personally, have been more optimistic in the past week that the shutdown wasn't even going to happen. I still have a pretty firm belief that the shutdown won't last more than a maximum of 48 hours, at the absolute most. Sooner or later Speaker Boehner is going to have to tell the few dozen hardline Tea Party members "it's over -- we fought as hard as we could, but we lost," and then introduce a clean bill to the House floor, which will pass with mostly Democratic votes (and a few dozen moderate Republican votes).

In fact, I see the fact that Boehner was forced to actually shut the government down as a measure of the weakness of his speakership. If he were a little more confident of his own position, he would be showing a little more leadership -- instead of being the dog wagged by the Tea Party tail. He is obviously terrified of a challenge from within his own party for the gavel he wields, and so he does their bidding, no matter how extreme and damaging to the national brand of his own party.

Republicans are going to sustain political damage for this gimmickry. That's pretty much assured, if the polls are accurate. The only question remaining is how much damage they will sustain. Perhaps Americans will have other things on their minds a year from now, and perhaps this will be a long-forgotten episode when election day rolls around next November. Perhaps. But perhaps the public will remember the disgust they're now feeling, and vote a Democratic House in next year. As I said, it's impossible to tell at this point (the American public, it should be noted, does have a notoriously short attention span).

John Boehner has now, for better or for worse, thrown his lot in with the radicals in the Tea Party. He has abdicated all pretense of leading, and now meekly follows what the extremists dictate. Or, to put it another way, he no longer exercises any control over his own party in the House, rather they exercise more control over him. The Republican Party, as a whole, has chosen which path it will now tread upon. They are all so frightened of "being primaried" by a more-pure Tea Partier (in what used to, politically, be called a "purge") that they will go along with anything the Tea Party demands of them. The GOP leadership has, in effect, left the building. The Tea Party takeover of the Republican Party is now complete.

They ought to just change the name, really. Leave it as just the "Democrats" versus the "Tea Partiers" -- because the Republican Party of yore is nothing more than a corpse waiting for burial, at this point. John Boehner, in fact, just hammered the last nail in its coffin.


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