In a recent radio interview, Newt Gingrich responded to the ongoing myth that the government shutdown during his tenure as House Speaker hurt the Republican Party.
Pundits in Washington today claim that the 1995 shutdown of the federal government was Newt Gingrich’s fault, and that the Republicans paid a price for their efforts.
The reality is quite different, Gingrich asserted. Indeed, the government shut down twice in the latter part of the 1995 year into 1996.
But what actually happened?
Aside from the federally-administered park in the capital closing until funds renewed, everyone who expected a disbursement from the government received the payments. Veterans were not left stranded in fields of combat waiting for their remunerations. Social security recipients were not left stranded without their funding, either. Besides, the ongoing revenue flowing into federal coffers will continuing funding all essential costs, as it did then.
The world kept turning, a few federal offices were closed, but life as we know it did not end. Yes, the press mercilessly pilloried the Republicans, and made it seem as though former President Bill Clinton emerged as the big winner.
In fact, despite the massive media upsets which depicted Newt Gingrich as a big baby crying because he did not get to sit next to President Bill Clinton on Air Force One, the Republicans entered the 1996 with a stronger hand. The party standard-bearer, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, was not the strongest candidate, but incumbents who do not face primary challenges or third-party challengers tend to succeed in winning a second term anyway. In November 1996, the Republican Party lost three seats in the House of Representatives (including two in Massachusetts, sadly), but then Speaker Newt Gingrich maintained the majority. In the US Senate, Republicans gained three seats, including US Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama)
Gaining three seats in the US Senate, strengthening their majority, Republicans then pushed welfare reform and other necessary cost-cutting measures onto a centrist Democrat who had lost substantial majorities compared to 1992-1994. The Republicans’ efforts resulted in a balanced budget by the end of Clinton’s presidency, one for which Gingrich’s caucus could take substantial credit.
What lessons can the Republican Party in 21st century Washington and conservatives throughout the United States draw from the 1996-1996 shutdowns?
A government shut-down in 2013 would not be inimical to the Republican Party, despite the media howling and pundit prowling. In fact, such a move would strengthen their credentials not only with their base, which feels somewhat baseless from a Washington elite bent on getting along to go along, but also with disaffected independents who as former Republicans left the party following George W. Bush’s spending sprees. And of course the growing class of young active voters are paying attention to the fiscal crises awaiting them should the current government do nothing to protect and provide for their future. They are looking for leaders who stand for what they believe.
Republicans pushing for government funding and Obamacare defunding are expressing the collective opinion of the American voters. The Democratic majority in the US Senate cannot ignore the consequences of trying pass one element of the House Continuing resolution without the other.
In US Senator Ted Cruz, for example, along with Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), younger voters are finding men of principle standing for what they believe, not afraid to risk a government-shut down if the Democratic representatives will not defund Obamacare. Other senators, like James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) and Senator Sessions rallied to Cruz’ support. The current Republican National Chairman appropriated a dynamic social media current to “Stand with Ted”. Cruz’ extended speech in the US Senate has tied Obamacare around the necks of every Democratic lawmaker, while rallying frustrated voters. Current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Cruz’ filibuster “a waste of time”, yet the attempts from Democratic lawmakers like Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) and Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) in fact intensified the reasons for Americans’ growing distaste for Obamacare.
If there is a shutdown in 2013, it will fall squarely on the Democrats, even if the media paints the Republicans as the source of friction and frustration. Unlike the 1995-1995 shutdown, Republicans are entering the sixth year of the sitting President’s administration, an election which has historically hurt that executive’s party. Just as Republicans gained Senators in the South in 1996, so too the party is targeting likely 2014 pick-ups in North Carolina, Louisiana, and Arkansas, along with other Midwestern and Mountain states where Democratic incumbents have declined to run for reelection.
Contrary to the hype and hysteria of Beltway consultants, the 1995-1995 shutdown did not hurt Republicans, but actually strengthened their hand for the elections that year. A similar result awaits Republican leaders in the House and Senate as long as they stay on message, as long as they demonstrate a capacity to work together, to articulate a clear set of goals, and hold the Democrats in the US Senate and the White House accountable for the current economic malaise and government dysfunction.