Andrew Sullivan collects sources questioning whether and why the Republican Party would go there, but ignores probably the most important point: what Eric Cantor says about shutdown is not probative of what Eric Cantor would do, were the question starkly presented to him. It is in Cantor’s best interest, and the Republican Party’s best interest, to set themselves up as tough negotiators.
That math may change at some point. As the shutdown draws near, Republicans will want to position themselves as the reasonable party. They will therefore hope to disclaim any interest in shutdown. But for now, the GOP’s interest is in projecting a firm negotiating posture. Cantor’s signal is a costless one, and precisely what we’d expect whether or not he would support full shutdown. His statements thus provide no information.
Another unexplored question is President Obama’s interest in the matter. Here we must remember history. The last shutdown, on Gingrich’s watch, cost the Republican brand dearly, as the Party was revealed as a bunch of obstructionist hacks more interested in wounding President Clinton than in the useful work of governing. That, and an unimpressive presidential slate, helped propel President Clinton to an easy 1996 re-election.
We can be sure that all the President’s men have made the requisite connection. Obama’s best play, then, is to take moderate, unassuming positions, and convince the Republican Party to foolishly rush, headlong, into the unpopular and dangerous shutdown strategy. From there, they can be flanked and crushed from defensive positions. Again. It’ll be like Cannae, but with words.
Republican wins force Obama to take a long game — waiting for the GOP to destroy itself, so actual work can begin again — but it’s not a bad position, as it allows Obama to watch the Republicans waltz towards shutdown, and their implosion, even as he struggles to avoid it. So far, it’s working brilliantly.