The US government shutdown drama spells trouble for the Republican Party

The US government shutdown drama spells trouble for the Republican Party
By Stefan Grobe
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Damaged Republicans set to lose key off-year elections on November 5

Just weeks after the end of the government shutdown and after a default was avoided in the very last minute, voters across the United States will finally have a chance to give their verdict. It’s not a national election, but it’s the first time for politicians, parties and pundits to find out, whether the widely polled dissatisfaction with politics in Washington will translate into punishment at the ballot box. And it looks like Republicans can expect a drubbing.

This off-year election on November 5 features a few special elections to the US Congress and a number of state and local elections of national interest, like the mayoral election in New York City and the gubernatorial election in Virginia.

In New York, Democratic candidate Bill de Blasio holds a historic 45-point lead, according to latest polls (NYTimes-Siena College), powered by optimism that he will bring about change and by overwhelming voter disapproval of the Republican Party. A victory by de Blasio, currently the city’s ombudsman, would make him the first Democrat to become New York’s mayor since 1993 – after the terms of Republican Rudolph Giuliani and Republican-turned Independent Michael Bloomberg.

In addition to de Blasio’s popularity, it is the fallout of the recent federal government shutdown in Washington that helps the Democrat and hurts his Republican opponent Joseph Lhota. 47 percent of likely voters in New York said that the shutdown made them more likely to vote for a Democrat, while only six percent said it prompted them to back a Republican.

A situation that is similar in Virginia that is poised to vote for a Democratic governor next Tuesday, despite the southern state’s traditional conservative stance. The Republican candidate, state attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, a tea party favorite, is trailing his Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe in several polls by seven to ten points.

A victory by McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman who never held elective office, would confirm the current national narrative that the Republicans are paying a heavy price for pushing the country to the fiscal brink – spurred by their obsession to kill “Obamacare”, the federal health care law.

As the latest Washington Post-ABC national poll suggests, the budget confrontation in October has dealt a major blow to the image of the Republican Party and has exposed significant divisions between right-wing tea party supporters and more mainstream Republicans. It also highlights how hugely Republicans in Congress have misjudged public mood: In the aftermath, eight in ten Americans said they disapproved of the shutdown.

Overall, the shutdown and the just barely avoided default produced widespread political fallout, but it’s the Republicans who receive most of the blame for the gridlock in Washington. The party’s image has sunk to an all-time low in recent surveys, with 32 percent of Americans saying they have a favorable opinion and 63 percent saying they have an unfavorable view. Almost four in ten Americans have a “strongly unfavorable” view of the Republicans.

The ring-wing tea party fares just as badly. Barely a quarter of the public has a favorable image of the movement, the lowest rating in the Post-ABC polling. That has not stopped major tea party representatives like Texas Senator Ted Cruz to promise to continue the crusade for the undoing of Obamacare. His die-hart supporters love him for that even if this strategy has not accomplished anything so far and has severely tarnished personal relations between Cruz and many of his fellow Republican senators.

When he traveled to his home state right after the end of the shutdown, Cruz received a hero’s welcome from his fans. Many want him to run for president in 2016, something that observers believe he is in the process of preparing. As a matter of fact, a Cruz candidacy would carry the risk of sparking an all-out civil war within the Republican Party – and strengthen the prospects of any Democratic candidate, be it Hillary Clinton or someone else.

Stefan Grobe, Washington

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