Why Republicans Don’t Fear a Shutdown, But Should

by Nathan L. Gonzales April 26, 2017 · 8:55 AM EDT

For many Republicans, it’s a fairly simple calculation: There was a supposedly catastrophic government shutdown in 2013 and the GOP gained 13 House seats a year later. So what’s the big deal if the government shuts down again?

With another funding deadline on the horizon, selective memory loss could have negative consequences for the Republican Party if there is another government shutdown.

Any recollection about the Oct. 1-16, 2013 shutdown as a political positive for the GOP is misguided, at best.

According to a Washington Post/ABC News survey taken in the aftermath, 81 percent of adults disapproved of the shutdown while just 17 percent approved. In addition, 53 percent blamed Republicans, compared to 29 percent who blamed President Barack Obama and 15 percent who blamed both sides equally. And that was at a time of divided partisan government.

But arguably the biggest reason why Republicans didn’t suffer at the ballot box was because of a gift from the Obama White House. The rollout of HealthCare.gov was an unmitigated disaster and turned the national conversation away from Republicans on the Hill and toward Obama, a polarizing piece of legislation, and a realized perception of government ineptitude.

Republicans gained seats in 2014 as a continued backlash against the Democrats, not because it was an endorsement of Republicans shutting down the government.

This time around, there is more risk for the GOP because the party controls the White House and Congress. But there is a deeper issue at play on the Republican side.

A key motivator to preventing a government shutdown and its potential political consequences is a fear of a backlash in the next elections. But more than half of the Republicans on the Hill don’t fear being in the minority.

Members elected since 2010 have never experienced life in the minority. It’s easy to say you care about principle over politics without an understanding of what it’s like to not control what legislation comes to the floor, committee agendas, and even investigations. If more Republicans had experience in the minority, it would probably be easier to get difficult legislation passed.

But Democrats shouldn’t get overconfident about the political fallout from a government shutdown.

According to a recent April 12-18 poll by Quinnipiac University, 38 percent of registered voters would blame Republicans in Congress for a shutdown, but 32 percent would blame Democrats in Congress, so voters are not letting the minority party completely off the hook. Fifteen percent of registered voters would blame President Donald Trump.

There is another reason why Democrats might not stand to gain as much from another shutdown: Voters aren’t that excited about government.

According to the 2016 election exit polls, just 6 percent of voters said they were enthusiastic (and another 24 percent said they were satisfied) with the federal government. In contrast, a majority of voters were either dissatisfied (46 percent) or angry (23 percent) with the federal government.

If voters don’t hold government in high regard, it’s unlikely there will be a widespread backlash against it temporarily ceasing operation. That doesn’t mean Republicans are in the clear, particularly if a shutdown is extended and people stop receiving critical benefits and services.