Government shutdown 2018: Parties grapple with possible repercussions ahead of midterms
The government shutdown has both parties scrambling to predict its impact on a political environment that had turned decidedly against President Donald Trump and the Republican Party ahead of the midterm elections.
Republicans, fully in charge of Washington and fearful that voters will punish them for failing to keep the government open, have quietly taken steps in recent weeks to gauge the possible fallout. America First Action, the principal pro-Trump group, has polled to see how the public would respond to a shutdown – and to see which party it would blame. The organization is exploring the possibility of airing ads that buttress the party.
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On Saturday morning, American Action Network, a pro-House GOP outside group, began airing commercials blaming the shutdown on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Concerns over a shutdown extend to the highest levels of the GOP, with some officials warning that it could further jeopardize the party ahead of a perilous midterm election.
“A government shutdown never ends well for Republicans, and it seldom ends well for the party in power,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican.
If the government shuts down, he added, “we’ll get the lion’s share of the blame.”
Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican who is retiring, was equally blunt in a Friday interview.
“If there is a shutdown I suspect that we Republicans, since we control all three branches of government, will be blamed – whether we deserve it or not,” he said.
Yet the shutdown could be disruptive for Republicans in other ways. The failure to keep the government open, party strategists worry, threatens to distract from their successful tax reform push – a long-sought Trump legislative accomplishment. Republican officials had hoped to turn the tax bill into a centerpiece of the 2018 campaign, so much so that during a recent political briefing with the president at Camp David, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy stressed the need to highlight the benefits of the legislation.
“We will be squandering any good will that’s starting to formulate as a result of tax reform,” said Robert Blizzard, a veteran GOP pollster who is advising a number of congressional candidates.
Yet the impact of a federal shutdown can be hard to predict. It was widely expected that Republicans would face serious political repercussions when the government last shut down in 2013. Instead, they went on to seize control of the Senate and win the largest House majority since the Herbert Hoover presidency.
Some Republicans see potential political benefit to the shutdown, arguing that it could upend the political landscape and put newfound pressure on Democratic senators from conservative states up for reelection. Republicans are preparing to cast them as soft on immigration, charging that they refused to vote for the bill because they favored illegal immigrants over funding the military and children’s insurance programs. Democrats objected to the proposed government funding bill because it did not include protections for recipients of DACA, which expires in March.
On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote in a tweet that Senate “Democrats have a choice to make,” between the health care program and DACA. “This should be a no-brainer,” he added.