The night of the final vote to lift the debt ceiling and restart the government, I was watching CNN. While waiting for the House to follow the Senate’s lead, I finally grew tired of the pundits and politicians repeating the same old party lines over and over again. So after days of being a shutdown news junky, I switched channels and watched a documentary called “No Mas”. It was about the two Roberto Duran-Sugar Ray Leonard fights, the second of which culminated in Duran giving up in the middle of the 8th round. It has never been clearly established why Duran, then known as the most macho fighter in the world, and definitely not hurt at the time, would turn his back on Leonard and say to the referee, “No mas, no mas” – “No more, no more”. However, it was clear to me after watching the replay of the fight that he could not figure out how to effectively counter the elusive, rapidly moving boxing style that Sugar Ray employed that night and was very angered by Leonard’s taunting, but clearly couldn’t do anything about it. In the end it was apparent that he quit because he was totally frustrated and knew that there was no way he could win. So he just quit.
Later in the evening as I was watching the House vote on CNN and it became apparent that there would be enough Republican votes for the measure to pass, I was reminded of the documentary. Like Duran, a substantial number of moderate and rational conservative Republicans in both the Senate and the House were saying with their vote, “No mas, no mas”. They had had enough, they were giving in, they were quitting. And who could blame them. Not only was the country on course with disaster, their party had already arrived at that destination.
Ever since the confrontation began weeks ago, a relatively small group of radical Tea Party representatives, following the lead of Senator Cruz, hijacked their 231 member Republican House delegation by refusing to vote to fund the government for 16 days unless the provisions contained some of their most radical objectives such as de-funding Obamacare. Unable to muster a majority made up of only his Republican delegation without his Tea Party members, House Speaker John Boehner essentially presided over the shutdown of the government while his Republican delegation voted unanimously for proposal after proposal that had no chance of being supported in the Senate or being signed by the President. Even Republicans who would have voted for a clear CR to reopen the government at any time if given the chance voted with their Republican colleagues for these hopeless measures because they didn’t want to seem disloyal to their party and/or they were afraid of a Tea Party backlash in their next primary election.
According to a Standard and Poor’s estimate, the 16 day shutdown took $24 billion out of the US economy and we, the taxpayers, will end up with the tab for the paid vacations of hundreds of thousands of government workers. It is ironic that the shutdown was initiated for ideological reasons by the Republican Party which claims to be the champion of strengthening the country’s economy. They can say what they may about Obamacare being a economic disaster, but everyone knows that the GOP hates it because it is Obama’s baby and because it defies their core conservative value of keeping the government out of everyone’s lives. They know it is too late to repeal Social Security, Medicaid, and a host of other government programs because they have become entrenched in the fabric of American life. This was their last ditch effort to try to get rid of the Affordable Care Act before it takes on the same status.
The Tea Party representatives would have probably tried to keep the shutdown going – they hate the government and were actually happy it could no longer function properly. However, with the undeniable economic disaster associated with not raising the debt ceiling looming, the adults in the room finally decided to take control of the kindergarten. Rational conservative Senators began to explore ways to pull their party out of the ditch into which their Tea Party colleagues in the House had driven it before the ground gave way and the vehicle fell over a very high cliff. Moderate GOP House members, along with their conservative colleagues who are not part of what they called the “crazy caucus”, blasted the Tea Partiers on the airwaves for leading their party into decline. Under enormous pressure, at the last minute, they caved. Obama and the Senate Democrats had successfully called their bluff.
The sad thing is that after keeping the country hostage for 16 days and threatening to cause a world wide economic disaster, the House GOP delegation got absolutely nothing in return. On the contrary, aside from the national and personal damage they inflicted, their tactics, which ultimately degraded into a circular firing squad, greatly damaged their brand. How can they legitimately continue to claim to be the champions of the economy and job creation after this debacle? All of the Washington participants in the shutdown battle took hits in the polls, but the GOP absorbed the greatest damage.
The episode also exposed deep divisions within the GOP that could yet disintegrate into an all out civil war. Having once followed their Tea Party brethren in their lemming like march to the cliff, moderates and rational GOP House conservatives may be emboldened to resist the domination by Tea Parties caucus and seek to minimize their influence. If they are totally successful, we may see the “crazy caucus” split from the Republican fold all together and ultimately form their own political party. If, on the other hand, the Tea Party maintains its grip on the Republican House delegation, it will be interesting to see how the GOP House leaders react next January when the ”crazy caucus” again try to shut down the government in order to again try to achieve their ideological goals..