With the government reopened, the debt ceiling lifted, and Obamacare mostly untouched, there's little doubt that the GOP has suffered one of its worst defeats in years. And as a report in the New York Times makes clear, members of the Party know it.
"We managed to divide ourselves on something we were unified on, over a goal that wasn’t achievable," Republican Senator Roy Blunt told the Times. "The president probably had the worst August and early September any president could have had. And we managed to change the topic."
Other Republican senators were equally distraught. "If you look back in time and evaluate the last couple of weeks, it should be titled ‘The Time of Great Lost Opportunity,’" said South Carolina's Lindsey Graham. "I’m trying to forget it," said Alaska's Lisa Murkowski. "Here we are. Here we are. We predicted it. Nobody wanted it to be this way."
Speaker John A. Boehner’s strategy always involved a gamble that his members would come away from this clash chastened. He intentionally allowed his most conservative members to sit in the driver’s seat as they tried in vain to get the Senate to accept one failed measure after another — first to defund the health care law, then to delay it, then to chip away at it. His hope was that they would realize the fight was not worth having again.
The worry among many Republicans is that the Tea Party flank will not get the message, mainly because their gerrymandered districts are so conservative they do not have to listen.
Some fear that history is repeating itself. After Mitt Romney’s defeat in which the Republicans lost the popular presidential vote for the fifth time in six elections, the party tried to regroup. Its establishment warned that it had to stop being so shrill, so exclusionary and so narrowly focused on issues that alienate large chunks of voters who might otherwise think about being Republicans.
Certainly, the budget fight showed that Congressional Republicans have divergent ideas about how to heed that advice.