The government shutdown was supposed to doom Republicans forever. But less than three months later, things look very different.
During and after the shutdown, public approval of the Republican Party bottomed out at the lowest levels seen in more than two decades. In one survey, 70 percent accused the party of putting its political agenda ahead of the public good. Congressional races that were supposed to be safe Republican seats started to look winnable for Democrats, and Democratic candidates came out of the woodwork to contest them. In Omaha, Nebraska, a Democratic city councilman who’d previously refused his party’s entreaties to try for a seat the party hadn’t held since 1992 suddenly announced he was willing, on account of “the dysfunction.” He was featured in the New York Times. House Speaker John Boehner began to look like the man who killed the GOP.
A CNN poll in mid-October, right after the shutdown ended, found Americans preferring to vote for Democrats for Congress by an 8-point margin. CNN took the same poll in mid-December and got a different result: Republicans favored by 5 points. The Democrats’ great Nebraska hope dropped out of the race.
Given the way things have turned out, maybe it’s worth revisiting who actually won the shutdown. Not only do Republicans lead the congressional ballot for the first time in more than a year, they rallied behind the year-end budget deal that funds the government into 2015, and they’ve finally decided to call an end to the pointless repeal-Obamacare votes. Boehner, who spent the year trying and failing to bring his caucus to heel, has finally solidified some measure of control.