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Republicans ‘biggest losers’ in shutdown aftermath

Polls show Republicans hitting new lows following the drama surrounding the government shutdown. FRANCE 24 touched base with two analysts, one right-leaning and one left-leaning, for their take on the political consequences of the crisis.


In the aftermath of a crisis that saw a shutdown of the US government (the first since 1995), analysts have been pondering the longer-term implications of America’s latest fiscal and legislative fiasco – particularly for the Republican party, which is facing most of the public’s blame for the gridlock.

FRANCE 24 touched base with two top political scientists for their insight: Thomas Mann of left-leaning think tank the Brookings Institution, and Karlyn Bowman of the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute.

Here are their answers to our questions.

F24: Polls show approval for Republicans dropping to new lows, and people blaming them for the shutdown far more than Obama. Will this shutdown have an impact on the midterm (Congressional) elections in 2014 and the presidential election in 2016?

TM: It depends very much on...what Republicans do to heal their wounds after the dust settles. [Because of the shutdown], Democrats have a better shot at holding their majority in the Senate in 2014, [but] Republicans have a big structural advantage in the House and a loss of their majority remains a long shot. And the 2016 Republican presidential nomination battle could produce an unelectable nominee.

KB: I’m not sure whether we will know for some time how much damage has been done by the antics of the last couple of weeks. Certainly Republicans look like the biggest losers now. But I’ve been struck in recent weeks about how incredibly fast the news cycle moves. Obama was in real trouble over Syria a few weeks ago, but that really seems like so long ago now. Will people remember all this next November? It is a long time from now, and we could have another fight in a few months.

F24: How can Republicans reduce the damage to their brand that we have seen reflected in polls over the last few weeks?

TM: Only with great difficulty and no guarantee of success. They have become a radical party, one prepared to take the country and the globe down if facing off with Obama. That’s a bad rap to overcome.

KB: The bigger question is damage to views of [federal] government, which are lower than they have ever been. Republican and Democratic [state] governors are doing pretty well [in polls], as people see them as far away from the troubles of DC. People have much more confidence in their state governments.

F24: Republicans came out of the 2012 presidential election with a consensus that they had to appeal more to groups like women, black and Hispanic voters, young people, gays -- the “bigger tent” approach. What happened to that plan?

TM: That assessment was never accepted by Tea Party politicians and activists, nor by many other conservative Republicans in the House.

KB: It’s still the plan.

F24: How does Obama look after this? Reinforced? Weakened?

TM: He needs to destroy those weapons of mass destruction [chemical weapons in Syria] and refocus the agenda on economic growth and away from deficits and debt.

KB: He isn’t strengthened by this; nor will he be weakened much. No one looks very good right now. Second terms are notoriously difficult, and Obama is suffering from the “second term curse”. So, he hasn’t gained ground, but he hasn’t lost as much as the Republicans. The Democrats in Congress, while looking better than the Republicans, don’t look very good either.

F24: Does the latest crisis open the door for the emergence of a third or "independent" party?

TM: Not really. Our system makes it very difficult for a third party to win elections and have any basis for governing.

KB: Given our structure of government, it is hard for a third party to get traction. Getting on the ballot in each state is hard and you need a lot of money to do it.

F24: In France, the system of “midterm” legislative elections was abolished to avoid the kind of gridlock the White House and Congress are in right now. Legislative elections now take place right after the presidential, and so far the same party has won both. Would this kind of reform be embraced in the US?

TM: It should be embraced in the US, but that would require a constitutional amendment, which is very unlikely.

KB: I’m not sure I know enough about the French system, but I think our election calendar and structure will stay in tact for awhile.

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