Democrats and the media are convinced that the public will “blame” Republicans for the looming government shutdown. This is predicated on memories that Republicans were “blamed” for the last government shutdown, in 1995-96. The media certainly did “blame” the GOP at the time for causing the shutdown. The voters, however, didn’t seem to have the same view. Just months later, at the next election, the Republicans retained their majorities in Congress. The Senate GOP even picked up 2 seats, in a year in which Clinton won reelection.
President Clinton did win reelection that year, but it was with less than a majority of the vote. In other words, a majority of Americans voted against Bill Clinton in the three-way presidential race. Democrats stayed roughly even in the House and lost ground in the Senate.
Senate Republicans went into the 1996 election with 53 seats in the Senate. They emerged with 55. In the House, the Republicans lost just two seats, retaining their majority. The conventional wisdom today is that the GOP “suffered” as a result of the shutdown. The party should be so lucky this year.
All of this was at a time that the three broadcast networks and mainstream media could unilaterally dictate the political conversation. In 1996, they used this power to bludgeon the GOP over the shutdown and did eventually get the party to cave and agree to Clinton’s budget terms. They have nothing like this power today.
In the months that followed, though, Republicans in Congress secured a balanced budget deal and achieved their long-sought goal to reform welfare. Whatever short-term “blame” they suffered from the shutdown didn’t preclude policy and electoral success just months later.
The media may say now that the GOP is committing “political suicide” by pushing demands that threaten a shutdown. But, as the great philosopher Cab Calloway said, “It ain’t necessarily so.”