WASHINGTON (AP) — Sure, Republicans and Democrats are battling over spending and immigration. But they’re also battling over blame.
On Day One of a government shutdown, both parties on Saturday launched a frantic messaging campaign aimed at mitigating the political blowback. The side that gets labeled responsible for the historic display of dysfunction may not only lose this fight, they could end up carrying that baggage into the midterm elections in November.
Republicans say Democrats are to blame because they’ve so far refused to go along with recent proposals for short-term temporary spending measures. Democrats argue that Republicans are stalling on immigration negotiations. They’re trying to force concessions from Republican that would shield from deportation the so-called Dreamers — the young immigrants protected under the Deferred Action for New Arrivals program.
A look at what Democratic and Republican strategists and other experts say about who will be blamed for the government shutdown:
Republican strategist Kevin Sheridan, former Republican National Committee spokesman and adviser to the Romney-Ryan presidential campaign in 2012:
“Democrat messaging is a mess. They are delusional to think DACA, which is unrelated to keeping the government open and doesn’t expire until at least March 5, but probably longer, is more important to the American people than paychecks for our troops and health insurance for children. Democrats do not oppose anything in the (continuing resolution) and after six years of governing by (continuing resolution) can’t make a credible case they oppose” them.
“They simply want to signal to their base that they are resisting the president. That’s not negotiating.”
Ross Baker, political scientist at Rutgers University:
“I think that Republicans are pushing up against a very uncomfortable fact and that is that they do control, although nominally, all the branches of the federal government and, consequently, I think it’s easier to hold them responsible.” Baker said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has been “quite focused on trying to pin this on the Democrats,” but doubted he would be successful.
Baker adds that Republicans complaining that they only control 51 seats in the 100-member Senate isn’t an effective strategy. “If you have to retreat to procedural language and drag people into the legislative process and intricacies, it’s a difficult argument to make,” he said.
Josh Holmes, longtime adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“I think Democrats made a series of really grave mistakes, chief among them is having a three-week debate about the DACA program, which will likely get a solution but certainly didn’t call for a government shutdown to achieve it. And what that did is frame the entire debate … their purpose for shutting the government down is to try to provide citizenship for people who are currently here illegally. And that juxtaposed with soldiers and sick, poor kids is not a good set of optics.”
“It’s a lazy arrogance when it comes to political fortunes. The thing that gets you every time is this view that just because things have been going you way politically for a series of months it’ll go your way no matter what. So the conclusion there is, ‘the president has a 40 percent approval rating there 60 percent of the country is going to be with us.’ Well, not when it comes to choosing people who are not Americans over American soldiers.”
William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who worked in the Clinton administration:
“Traditionally the party in power, especially when there’s total unified government, is held responsible for policy outcomes. That’s what history says, but history also said that someone like Donald Trump couldn’t be elected president of the United States. I reference history with many more reservations than I used to.”
Galston adds: “Democrats are likely to be at an advantage in the struggle to assign blame, among other things because an effective message campaign requires what the professionals call message discipline, and that hasn’t been Donald Trump’s strong-suit. One impulsive tweet could undo a week of strategy.”
Michael Steel, press secretary for former House Speaker John Boehner from 2008-2015:
“Republicans from President Trump on down are clear and unified on why Washington Democrats forced this shutdown, while the Democrats can’t get on the same page. The American people know it was Washington Democrats who voted against funding the government and children’s health insurance. This is all on their heads.”
Former Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., a 38-year House veteran who was defeated in 2014:
“There’s risks on all sides. It’s obvious that Democrats are playing to their base and Republicans are playing to their base,” he said. “Everybody loses. It just feeds into the fed-up atmosphere of the American people that, No. 1, elected Donald Trump in the first place and, No. 2, I don’t think will put up with him in the second instance.”
Rahall says wave elections — one party wins a huge number of seats, often sweeping into control of the House or Senate — are getting “bigger and occurring more often because of the shenanigans the American people view are going on in Congress. I expect another wave this year, perhaps bigger than ever.”
Asked if it was worth it for Democrats to cause a shutdown over their demands to protect the young Dreamers from deportation, Rahall said, “I don’t think so, certainly not in my home state of West Virginia.”