Senate votes to fund government through Feb. 8
Democrats were imperiling the military. Republicans were too incompetent to lead. The consequences for the midterms would be disastrous and decisive.
All weekend, Republican and Democratic officials and party hands pinned the blame for the government shutdown squarely on the other side, as they each sought to gain a political edge while Washington grappled with yet another self-inflicted crisis.
But now, as both parties reach an apparent short-term deal to reopen government, a half-dozen top political operatives on both sides of the aisle told McClatchy that they are deeply skeptical that come November’s midterm elections, shutdown politics will matter at all.
The next races on the calendar are intraparty primary contests — and by the time Republicans and Democrats actually face off in general election match-ups nearly 10 months from now, strategists say, the rapid-fire news cycle will have moved well beyond the shutdown.
“In terms of being a usable paid message — it's an eternity till then,” said Nick Everhart, a Republican media consultant who emphasized that both parties face dozens of primaries before the general election even arrives.
If Democrats think this will be forgotten, they’re very mistaken.
Matt Gorman, the communications director at the National Republican Congressional Committee
It’s not that the causes for the shutdown — or what they say about the two parties — will be irrelevant. The event was precipitated by a stalemate over what to do with young immigrants brought to the United States illegally, known as Dreamers, and Republicans are arguing that Democrats prioritized those immigrants over the U.S. citizens, while Democrats fault the governing party for brinksmanship in the first place.
But in 2013, the GOP faced enormous backlash after a conservative faction pushed the government into a shutdown over Obamacare, and many feared a midterms blowout. Yet the next fall, Republicans regained control of the Senate.
The driving message by then had less to do with government shutdowns and more to do with the rise of ISIS and an outbreak of Ebola — unforeseen developments that emerged as key drivers in the final weeks of the campaign.
“I remember when the Republicans shut down or tried to shut down the government we’d have a surge of energy, people would call us wanting to run for Congress, and the polling became stratospheric for us,” said Steve Israel, who in 2013 was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Weeks later, gravity set in and we’d be in a pre-shutdown environment as if it never happened.”
The speed of the news cycle has only increased since then, during a presidency in which major news — often delivered directly from President Donald Trump’s Twitter account — seems to break every day.
But that hasn’t stopped anyone from trying to take advantage of the shutdown for now. Republican and Democratic party committees and outside groups are already up with ads — online and in some cases, on television — faulting the other side for the government shutdown that consumed the nation’s capital over the weekend and continued into Monday.
Republicans, including President Trump’s reelection campaign, have cast Democrats as more interested in the rights of undocumented immigrants than in those of U.S. citizens who need the government open. They have been buoyed by a CNN poll in which 56 percent of Americans surveyed said it was more important to avoid a shutdown than to find an immigration fix.
“If Democrats think this will be forgotten, they’re very mistaken,” said Matt Gorman, the communications director at the National Republican Congressional Committee, which has been running online ads blasting Democrats over the shutdown. “The partisan dysfunction they’ve shown throughout the entire process is indicative of a broader problem within their party, moving to the left. It’s going to be a very big thing we’ll highlight throughout the course of the rest of the year.”
The reason it matters is it’s another reason why the voters look at a D.C. controlled by the GOP and see nothing but chaos.
Jefrey Pollock, a Democratic strategist
The shutdown will have lasting impact, he suggested, by shaping a broader narrative of the GOP as the responsible party that promotes tax reform and protects military pay, versus a liberal Nancy Pelosi-led Democratic Party that is obstructionist.
Democrats, for their part, accused Republicans of presiding over an increasingly dysfunctional Washington, pointing out they control the Senate, House, and White House. Even if the shutdown was short-lived, they argue, it will only increase the appetite for change in government.
“The reason it matters is it’s another reason why the voters look at a D.C. controlled by the GOP and see nothing but chaos,” said Jefrey Pollock, a Democratic strategist. “So while the shutdown on its own may not be an electoral issue, the chaos that it represents will be, and any shutdown contributes to voters thinking this is a complete utter mess that needs radical change in D.C. — and that benefits the Dems big time.”
Indeed, at the onset of the shutdown, polls showed that the public was more inclined to blame Republicans. A Washington Post/ABC News survey found that 48 percent of people blamed Trump and the congressional GOP for the shutdown, compared to just 28 percent who blamed Democrats.
But in the combustible Trump era, Washington has grappled with myriad controversies virtually every week. It’s hard to see how this one stays relevant months from today, operatives say. And it’s certainly not worth it for campaigns to start spending money on this message now.
“I don’t have any candidates running that I would recommend going on the air in January to attack Democrats over an issue like this,” said a Republican strategist with a background in political advertising. “Most of my candidates are either currently in primaries, or it’s an incumbent and the Democrats are in primaries. It would be a different story if this was August or September.”
The source added, “None of it matters, because it’s January, and for all we know, the government might shut down 11 more times between now and November.”