No, a DHS Shutdown Probably Won’t Hurt Republicans Much


Republicans are threatening to shut down the Department of Homeland Security over their opposition to any funding bill that doesn’t halt President Obama’s immigration actions, and today Ed Kilgore notes a new poll today that says a majority of the public will indeed blame Republicans if this happens. Only 30 percent will blame Obama:

That 30% probably blames Obama for bad winter weather, so he’s on relatively safe ground here. As for Republicans, some don’t give a damn about public opinion (outside their bright-red districts, at least), some have convinced themselves that shutting down the whole damn government worked out all right for them just over a year ago, and some are simply prisoners of their own rhetoric and prejudices. In any event, adverse polling data alone won’t pull them back from the brink.

This is basically just an excuse to mention something that surprisingly few people acknowledge: shutting down the government in 2013 did work out all right for Republicans. The punditocracy seems almost unanimously convinced that it seriously hurt them, and it’s true that the GOP leadership wants to avoid a replay. But aside from a brief dip in the polls, the GOP escaped almost entirely unharmed. As soon as the shutdown was over, media attention shifted instantly to the Obamacare meltdown that was then in progress.

In fact, a year after the shutdown, Republicans won the 2014 election in a landslide. Does anyone think they would have done even better if they hadn’t shut down the government? Anyone?

This isn’t to say that Republicans aren’t playing with fire here. Shutting down DHS has really bad optics, and presidents have ways of making shutdowns look even worse than they are. Republicans will complain that Obama is playing politics, and they’ll probably be right, but their griping will fall on deaf ears. What’s more, as time wears on the crazytown wing of the Republican Party will start saying some seriously embarrassing things. They always do. In the end, then, some kind of face-saving compromise will probably be reached that funds DHS and makes little more than a token concession on immigration.

In other words, the shutdown probably won’t do Republicans any good—though it’s always helpful to keep the base energized. But I frankly doubt that it will do them much harm either.