One of the toughest tasks after the end of the 2013 budget standoff is trying to choose a winner. There aren’t many options, thanks to the fumbling on all sides of the impasse. It’s not House Republicans, obviously, but after the numerous rejections of reasonable appropriations over the two weeks of the shutdown, it’s not Senate Democrats, either.
Nor does the White House have a claim on it, as much as Barack Obama wants to claim the mantle today by, er, blaming bloggers and pundits for Washington’s ills, a rather startling display of impotence from the Oval Office. Obama had plenty of opportunity to position himself as an executive negotiator and to demonstrate care over the impact of the shutdown, if for no other reason than to contrast that with Republicans refusing to budge. Instead, the Obama administration went far out of its way to be petty, especially through abusing the National Park Service, and declaring that presidents shouldn’t be forced to negotiate on budgets.
Everyone inside the Beltway is a loser in this episode — but that lifts those outside of it, as National Journal’s Matthew Cooper notes:
Republican Governors (Winners) – Chris Christie looked like a mensch when he came through D.C. during the crisis telling Fox News: “Everybody plays brinksmanship and people who I have spoken with across the country, they’re tired of it and no one’s going to come out this unscathed in Washington nor should they be.” But every Republican governor who harbors presidential aspirations, whether it’s Christie, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, or others, looks like Churchill compared to this crowd. Americans elected three people straight from the Senate in the last 100 years – Warren Harding, John Kennedy, and Barack Obama. It’s hard to see why they’d dip into the Senate pool (or, Ayn Rand forbid, the House) pool after this mess. But the men from Trenton and Baton Rouge look a lot better by comparison.
Cooper misses two that are more likely to catch national attention — Susana Martinez, whose popularity as governor in New Mexico is astounding, and Scott Walker, who has demonstrated tremendous tenacity as governor in Wisconsin. We could also include Indiana’s Mike Pence, a conservative House favorite who went back home to add executive experience to his resume.
Cooper casts Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell as winners, but that’s not terribly likely. Even though they cut the deal in the end, the question will be why they didn’t do so earlier. Plus, the sight just got kicked down the road a few months, which means we’ll get even more chances to experience the pettiness that was on display over the last few weeks.
Both Cooper and Michael Hirsh think that another big winner was … Hillary Clinton?
In the innermost sanctum of Clintonland, it is difficult to imagine that Hillary and Bill, two of the savviest politicians in the country, are not pinching themselves to make sure that it’s all real. Perhaps they’re dancing a jig together, or knocking back shots and howling at the moon out of sheer, giddy joy at their good luck. (OK, Hillary’s not howling, but Bill might be.) Or maybe they are just quietly kvelling over the latest turn of events.
Because the trend lines are unmistakable, and they’re looking better all the time: If she wants to run in 2016, Hillary Rodham Clinton could have the easiest walk into the White House of any candidate in either party since, well, one has to go back a very long way. Maybe to Reagan in ’84. LBJ in ’64, or Eisenhower in ’52, or even FDR in 1932, 1936 and 1940. The presidency is looking like it’s hers to lose, more than ever.
The reasons are becoming more obvious with each passing crisis of Republicanism, but are even starker now in the wake of the GOP’s embarrassing implosion over the shutdown and debt-ceiling fight. This is an opposition party in such a state of extreme dysfunction that talk of a third-party split in 2016 is almost irrelevant. Why would you need a third-party split to win—as Bill did, recall, cheating George H.W. Bush out of a second term in 1992 thanks to the Ross Perot candidacy—when the base and establishment of the GOP are no longer on speaking terms?
Remember when poor Mitt Romney, who even in the best of fettle was not a very smooth or relaxed guy, twisted himself into an unrecognizable pretzel to win over the base? When a man who’d been a fairly effective Massachusetts governor felt he had to disown his greatest achievement, universal health care, and virtually emasculate himself before the general election in order to triumph in the primaries, thus losing all credibility (or at least identity) by the fall? When Romney believed he had to out-Santorum Rick Santorum, the man once voted the second dumbest senator, and go even more conservative on immigration than not-ready-for-prime-time Rick “Oops” Perry?
Well, guess what, it’s only gotten worse for reasonable Republicans who might have a shot at winning a general election against a popular Democratic nominee. Whatever rational, impressive candidate lays claim to the GOP nomination in 2016 — say, the popular, newly trimmed-down but currently-all-too-moderate New Jersey governor, Chris Christie — is now going to have to out-Cruz Ted Cruz. And that’s just not possible. Finding a place to the right of Ted Cruz, as brazen a demagogue who has come along in American politics since Huey Long, is like reaching the edge of the Internet and then trying to go beyond. You can’t do it. Nor would you want to try. Nor could you ever win a general election doing so.
It’s not going to be necessary. Washington is going to be the big drag on Senatorial bids in 2016, and Cruz will not have enough time to overcome that. Republicans do best when they find authentic and accomplished conservatives among the gubernatorial ranks (Reagan and Bush 43 come to mind), and putting another Clinton on the ticket will make the Democratic ticket the Beltway Forever campaign. If Democrats were smart, they’d also be looking outside the Beltway for their next presidential nominee after this episode.