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Electoral deadlock means no end to Republican extremism

After 16 days of anxiety, grandstanding and acrimonious finger-pointing, the experiment in American democracy that was the government shutdown has been run, and for the Republicans, the results were devastating…

Tough crowd. Gonna get tougher. White House

After 16 days of anxiety, grandstanding and acrimonious finger-pointing, the experiment in American democracy that was the government shutdown has been run, and for the Republicans, the results were devastating.

With the immediate crisis over, amid a prevailing mood of exhaustion and contempt for those who precipitated it, Republican minds now turn to question of long-term electoral fallout. Immediate polling has suggested that association with the shutdown debacle has the potential to do damage to Republican hopes of winning a Senate majority, and some have even argued that it may lead them to lose the House of Representatives.

How realistic is the prospect of a Republican electoral blowout in 2014 as a legacy of recent events? Well, if it does happen, or even if the House numbers swing substantially towards the Democrats, it will certainly be because of recent missteps. The polling makes clear that an incumbent’s association with the shutdown can nudge voters to vote against them, making the strategic play during the campaigns a no-brainer for Democrats. A Republican loss of the House was considered a pipe dream only a few weeks ago, so the very existence of the debate suggests the severity of the recent error.

The path of moderation

Two points should be borne in mind, however. The first is that election day is more than a year away, meaning that much depends on what happens between now and then. Given that they were unconvinced of its wisdom in the first place, and it has now ended in ignominy, it might seem a reasonable prediction that the (relatively) moderate leaders of the Republican caucus will refuse to countenance any re-run of recent brinkmanship when the next set of budget and debt deadlines arrive.

They are seasoned enough operators to know the difference between tough negotiating and self-immolation, even if not all of their colleagues are. During some of the arguments to come – on the role of government, “entitlement” (health and welfare) spending and taxation - the GOP may be able to retain greater party unity and win more favour with the median voter, so long as they steer clear of flirting with nuclear options.

A successful Republican regrouping may rely, however, on the radical right being more chastened than they appear to have been by recent events, and accepting the need to rein in their more outlandish instincts, as opposed to mounting a renewed assault on the moderates in their own party. If, on the other hand, the radicals choose to interpret this latest defeat as a stab in the back by their own side and become even less controllable by the party leadership, all bets are off. We may yet find out where the party’s rock bottom ultimately lies.

Lest we forget, even when staring down the barrel of the gun on Wednesday night, a majority of Republican members of the House – 144, or 62% – voted against the deal which ultimately won the day. The difficulty involved in steering the Republican house majority onto the path of moderation should not be underestimated.

Saved by the gerrymander

Bleak as that may sound for the party’s electoral prospects, it is important to remember a second point: there is a structural safety net limiting how far the party can fall, least in the short term. If the Republican goal is ultimately to reclaim national power, then the shutdown circus may well have done them grievous harm, since the electorates for marginal Senate seats have tended to punish extremist candidates in the general election. Those voters show all the signs of responding badly to the recent burst of radicalism.

In the House, however, where the drawing of constituency boundaries usually lies in the hands of partisan state legislatures, dislodging the Republicans in 2014 will be a far taller order. Because they won big in 2010, Republicans were able to lock in advantageous boundaries for themselves for the next decade. Combined with other factors, such as the increasing geographical clustering of like-minded voters and the tendency of Democrat voters to be concentrated in urban districts, this helps explain why Democrats failed to win a majority of seats in the house in 2012 even though they won 1.4 million more votes nationwide.

The number of uncompetitive seats that this creates also helps explain why Congressmen fear a primary challenge from their own extreme flank as punishment for compromise far more than a backlash from the general electorate for adhering to doctrinaire positions.

Plumbing the depths

The story is more complicated than gerrymandering alone, but it is evident that the problem is real. Current arrangements make it unduly difficult for Democrats to translate national victory with the voters into a House majority.

Unless the misjudgements of both leadership and radical fringe continue to mount such that the Republican party plumbs catastrophic new depths of unpopularity, it seems highly likely the party will remain entrenched in their majority position in the House, even as their Senate and presidential aspirations falter.

President Obama will no doubt seek to press his advantage to maximum effect in the weeks ahead, as any politician worth his salt should. But so long as the electoral system remains as dysfunctional as it presently is, and so many of the participants within it so averse to the very idea of compromise, divided government seems all-too likely to continue after 2014. Sadly, with that comes the sort of government-by-crisis that has embarrassed America and horrified the world over recent months.

Join the conversation

29 Comments sorted by

  1. Chris Harper

    Engineer

    What is extreme about wanting to rein in the insanely out of control spending of the US government?

    What is extreme is the idea that any country can survive after spending the grandkids income on current consumption.

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    1. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Harper

      There is nothing wrong with reining in expenditure, except that isn't what the tea party nut jobs want.

      They are perfectly happy to spend more then they earn on the military, but are against spending on social welfare programs. They are against government regulation to keep the air clean or to provide health care, but are for government regulation to prevent women having reproductive choice.

      And refusal to raise the debt ceiling is just bloody minded hypocritical posturing. The government has already approved the expenditure. To then refuse legislation to actually raise the money for the expenditure it had already approved shows how extreme these ideologues really are.

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    2. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Now now Mike don't you go discouraging the likes of our own embryonic tea baggers like Chris here... this is precisely the sort of suicidal ignorant chanting we should be watching with hope and enthusiasm.... an absolute guarantee of utter electoral oblivion over time.

      So you get stuck in Chris... you tell that closet red Joe Hockey not to increase our national borrowing limits in a month or so... you tell TA Tony not to build those freeways ... form a common front with 'Greg North" demanding that nothing gets built without cash up front ... let's try and run the whole show on raffles and sausage sizzles. Excellent.

      One should never interfere when one's opponents are driving themselves off a cliff. More power to you Mr Harper ... you tell 'em, lad!

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    3. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Mike,

      Who said anything about the Tea Party? Did I say anything about the Tea Party?

      All I referred to is the insanity of spending, not small targeted amounts but vast waterfalls of, money borrowed against the grandkids income on not investment but current consumption. That you didn't address what I actually said, but instead painted a baseless cartoon caricature of people you don't like in order to deflect attention, tells me you have no argument.

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    4. Neil Gibson

      Retired Electronics Design Engineer

      In reply to Chris Harper

      What are teh "extreme" Tea Party supporters complaining about?
      US Tax Revenue $2,170,000,000,000
      Fed Budget $3,820,000,000,000
      New Debt $1,650,000,000,000
      National Debt $14,271,000,000,000
      Recent Budget Cuts $38,500,000,000

      Removing 8 zeroes to equate to a household budget so lefties can understand it too.
      Annual Income $21,700
      Annual Spending $38,000
      New Debt $16,500
      Outstanding Credit card $142,000
      Budget cuts $38,50
      All is not well in the Obanana republic.

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    5. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Not sneering Chris ... I'm trying to encourage you in your efforts to cripple the state - for the good of future generations.

      If only our great grandparents had similar prudence - of living within our means - Chris ... we'd have no power grids, no electricity, no roads, no bridges, no schools, no universities, no engineers ... but gee the balance sheet would be just terrific. Well actually no it wouldn't we'd have a balance sheet that looks like Somalia's.

      Current consumption ... frittering…

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    6. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      So Peter,

      If instead of building the national infrastructure you would have been just as happy for your grand parents to have bought a big box of choccies and given them all to their friends? Leaving the leftovers to rot in the sun?

      Yeah, what would have been worth borrowing millions for, wouldn't it?

      You claim to be an economist Peter, but do you truly not understand the difference between investing for the future and bingeing on current consumption?

      Or is this a deliberate misdirection…

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    7. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      All special treatment for pollies mates would be a good start. Special treatment for selected companies for instance? And farmers? Why should farmers not be treated in exactly the same way as a motor repair shop or a retail outlet?

      How about that Peter? Put farmers on exactly the same basis as the rest of us?

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    8. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Yep ... can I quote myself? You bet I can:

      "Current consumption ... frittering cash away on industry assistance for example, handouts for drought relief, flood relief etc ...is a problem but we should distinguish between consumption spending and investment."

      Just heard on RN that we're at it again offering handouts to the deserving distressed following the fires ... presumably so they can rebuild in exactly the same place and with the same tinderbox designs...

      No Chris you'll find I'm…

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    9. Gary Murphy

      Independent Thinker

      In reply to Neil Gibson

      What are the financial supporters of the Tea Party concerned about?

      Taxes on the rich.

      All this small government stuff has been tried before - it fails miserably because the capitalist economic system channels money from the poor to the rich. And without a socialist government to redistribute the wealth somewhat the wealth all ends up in the hands of a few. Then no-one can afford to spend money anymore and the economy collapses.

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    10. Jonathan Kelly

      IT Consultant

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Agriculture receives the lowest assistance by government of any OECD country and generates 15% of Australia's export income.

      Yet they are a drain on the economy and need to be reined in?

      How exactly?

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    11. Robert McDougall

      Small Business Owner

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Sorry Chris,

      Tried to follow, but could see no reference to chocolates in what Peter said or where he claimed to be an economist, seems to me he is a farmer.

      You post seems to be incredibly pointless.

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    12. Robert McDougall

      Small Business Owner

      In reply to Gary Murphy

      not just the economy, but the society itself.

      Ever heard of the phrase "desperate people do desperate things" that is why we have a safety net, to provide stability.

      Revolutionary France being the classic example of what happens when all wealth and opportunity is concentrated at the top

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    13. David Stein

      Businessman

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Chris,
      The US has a revenue problem, rather than a spending problem.
      Taxes are far too low on the highest income earners who have been sitting on their cash rather than participating in demand generating activities by investing or spending their loot.
      Here's a chart showing that Obama's policies are reducing spending in the US:
      https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?graph_id=139997&category_id=0

      Now - I disagree with the reduction in spending. With unemployment still above 7% in the US, now is not the time for the government to act to reduce demand. But... want to get some facts on the table.

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    14. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to David Stein

      Spot on David ...

      The attached is a rather comprehensive analysis by the ubiquitous Nate Silver http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/16/what-is-driving-growth-in-government-spending/?_r=0

      Silver clearly demonstrates that the US is facing financial pressures from two significant sources - health care spending and welfare programs - the first arising from an aging population and the second arising from the ongoing hollowing out of the US economy notably manufacturing and state and local employment.

      There is very little wiggle room. But blocking the Affordable Healthcare Act seems exactly the wrong way to go.

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    15. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Harper

      For a climate change denier, Chris seems to be very selective in what legacy he believes we should be leaving our grandchildren.

      Leave them a planet with a climate that has devastating cost implications for agriculture etc? No problem. Just don't leave them with a debt.

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    16. Neil Gibson

      Retired Electronics Design Engineer

      In reply to Gary Murphy

      “The problem is, is that the way Bush has done it over the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the Bank of China in the name of our children, driving up our national debt from $5 trillion for the first 42 presidents – #43 added $4 trillion by his lonesome, so that we now have over $9 trillion of debt that we are going to have to pay back — $30,000 for every man, woman and child. That’s irresponsible. It’s unpatriotic.” ...........Barack Obama 2008
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kuTG19Cu_Q
      The Tea Party is concerned about the same things that this man has conveniently forgotten. Damned by his own words his administration has been " irresponsible and unpatriotic". Under this turkey the US debt has gone from 9 billion to 17 billion in a few years. Using Obama's logic the Tea Party are being patriotic in opposing this debt madness.

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    17. Jonathan Kelly

      IT Consultant

      In reply to Neil Gibson

      The absolute amount of debt is not the number that matters, it is the ability to service that debt.

      Person A may be $1000 in debt but if they have an income of just $1000 that is far worse than person B who has a much greater debt of $10,000 but is on an income of $100M

      You need to look at the ability to *service the debt* not the absolute amount. It means the number to look at is not total debt but debt to GDP (ie how much is owed compared to how capable you are to service it).

      After WW2 and until 1950 you had an even higher Debt/GDP than you do now.

      Following that it dropped as the economy grew. What is needed is economic growth to recover from high Debt/GDP.

      That has started to happen however then deciding to shut down the government and risk default is not a responsible way to help nurture an economy. Especially not over a partisan ideological argument. That seems (to an outsider) to be cutting of your nose to spite your face.

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    18. Neil Gibson

      Retired Electronics Design Engineer

      In reply to Neil Gibson

      Whoops - that should read "from 9 trillion to 17 trillion"

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    19. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Jonathan Kelly

      Good points Jonathan and under normal circumstances utterly true. However what is clear from those graphs put together by Nate Silver (posted in the comments here somewhere) is that US revenue has been 'decoupled' from GDP.

      The tax cuts offered by Reagan and subsequent administrations have eroded the capacity for the US to fund the demands placed on it - particularly when it comes to carrying increased welfare burdens due to deep structural change in both demographics and the economy…

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    20. Neil Gibson

      Retired Electronics Design Engineer

      In reply to Jonathan Kelly

      The problem is that they are servicing the debt with more borrowed money. Bit like maxing out one credit card and getting another to pay the interest. You are confusing "ability to service debt" with the ability to borrow more money.

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    21. Jonathan Kelly

      IT Consultant

      In reply to Neil Gibson

      > You are confusing "ability to service debt"
      > with the ability to borrow more money

      Neil I don't think I am.

      If they are borrowing more to service the existing debt, then that just makes the debt go up for no change in GDP surely?

      The result would be the Debt to GDP ratio would be getting worse.

      Instead the debt to GDP ratio seems to be leveling off which indicates you are starting to service the debt and given continuing economic growth will start to reduce the debt.

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    22. Gary Murphy

      Independent Thinker

      In reply to Neil Gibson

      Well - if the Tea Party is so concerned why do they continue to block any attempts to end the ridiculous tax cuts for the extremely wealthy? That is the real reason for the government deficits and it is all the Republicans fault. Turkey.

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  2. John C Smith

    Auditor

    Uncle Sam is in debt and got nothing to do with the home affairs of his house. Tea Party; what tea, more likely drunk with bootlegged Rum. I mean power of Uncle Sam. Times have changed. Even Korea is making things that Uncle used to make and still make. Why should we worry about what is is going in inside Uncle's abode.
    Time to get ready to save ourselves when the is on fire. Time to be fire ready;

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