For the moment, at least, the shutdown and the general scene of insanity in Congress is clearly hurting the Republican brand. And there’s a whole small industry of crunching numbers on the 1995-6 shutdown, etc., to estimate the likely impact on next year’s elections. For now the conventional wisdom is that the impact will be small, not nearly enough to restore Democratic control.
I have no idea whether that’s right. But as I was reading the various news reports, it occurred to me that there’s a subtler but possibly profound form of damage the GOP is doing to itself, one that will cast its shadow for a long time.
It goes back to something Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo used to say — that Washington is, in effect, wired for Republicans. Ever since Reagan, the Beltway has treated Republicans as the natural party of government. Sunday talk shows would feature a preponderance of Republicans even if Democrats held the White House and one or both houses of Congress. John McCain was featured on those shows so often you would think he won in 2008.
And there was a general presumption of Republican competence. It’s hard to believe now, but Bush was treated as a highly effective leader who knew what he was doing right up to Katrina, while Clinton — now viewed with such respect — was treated as a bungling interloper for much of his presidency. Even in the last few years there was a rush to canonize Paul Ryan as a superwonk, when it was quite obvious if you looked that politics aside, he was just incompetent at number-crunching.
But I think the last two years have finally killed that presumption. It wasn’t just that Romney lost — his shock, the obvious degree to which his campaign was deluded, was an eye-opener. And now the antics of the Boehner bumblers.
Suddenly the old Will Rogers line — I’m not a member of any organized political party,I’m a Democrat — has lost its sting; the upper hand is on the other foot. And that’s going to color narratives and shape campaigns for a long time.