It’s one thing to force a shutdown in November of the off-off year. It’s another to do so in February or March of the presidential election year, when a large portion of the Republican field will be involved in the presidential primaries. 

This leads to the ultimate nightmare scenario for conservatives: A relatively inexperienced speaker trying to manage an unruly caucus could be pressured into trying out some of its preferred tactics, and there is a very good chance that it will fail to accomplish anything. But they could also lead to a prolonged shutdown in a presidential year, which many of the party’s presidential candidates could be forced to back. Another fight over the debt ceiling likewise looms.

Conservatives are understandably frustrated. They’ve notched substantial electoral victories in the past five years, yet Obama continues to advance much of his agenda through executive orders. Their attempts to use the power of the purse to stall this agenda have been ineffective. Much of this is an outgrowth of the constitutional order, combined with President Obama’s willingness to stretch his powers to their fullest extent (and perhaps past that extent). 

But a prolonged battle over the budget or a catastrophic fight over the debt ceiling could have a substantial impact on the party’s ability to win the presidency and hold the Senate, both of which are close calls as of this writing (the presidency more so than the Senate). Contrary to popular opinion, I do not believe that their House majorities are inviolable, either (a subject for another article).