Skip to main content

Goodbye to the strategy Republicans knew was a fantasy

By Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst
updated 12:06 PM EDT, Wed October 9, 2013
The Statue of Liberty looms over visitors below on Liberty Island in New York Harbor on Sunday, October 13, 2013. The statue was closed to the public by the federal government's partial shutdown that began October 1, 2013, but reopened Sunday after the state of New York agreed to shoulder the costs of running the site during the shutdown. The Statue of Liberty looms over visitors below on Liberty Island in New York Harbor on Sunday, October 13, 2013. The statue was closed to the public by the federal government's partial shutdown that began October 1, 2013, but reopened Sunday after the state of New York agreed to shoulder the costs of running the site during the shutdown.
HIDE CAPTION
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
Government shutdown of 2013
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gloria Borger: Republicans have quietly abandoned strategy to defund Obamacare
  • She says they secretly knew it was hopeless but felt forced into it by Ted Cruz, others
  • Borger says shutdown news overshadowed sputtering start to Obamacare
  • She says Boehner is back to where he wanted to be: urging spending cuts for debt limit deal

(CNN) -- Just one week ago Republicans were united, railing against the man-made evil known as Obamacare. They hated it so much, they said, they would tie the funding of the government to the defunding of the dread program. Sure, they had tried more than 40 times to get rid of the plan before, but they had never done this: Attach the plan to kill it to a must-pass piece of legislation.

It was an idea born of necessity, some now tell me. Republicans in the House had been hit over the head in their districts by ads run by conservative political action committees (paging Sen. Ted Cruz, who appeared in some). The rap against them: They had not worked hard enough to slay the evil dragon. The charge, having been plastered all over TV, was leveled against them at town hall meetings over the summer.

They came back to Washington very angry at Cruz and Company. And in survival mode.

So the plan to defund Obamacare -- and tie it to a measure to fund the government -- was hatched.

Gloria Borger
Gloria Borger

Never mind that House Speaker John Boehner was already on the record saying he didn't want to do that. He had no choice but to capitulate: If he didn't adopt the strategy, he would face a revolt. Who wants that when you're just back from summer vacation?

So defunding Obamacare became the new war cry. It passed the House, went to the Senate, where Cruz then promptly told reporters it would die. At that moment, Cruz morphed from the Pied Piper of House Republicans into the man on the Most Wanted sign. He had left them out on a limb. "He's a demagogue," one senior House Republican told me, then going on to detail how Cruz was shooting "his own team from behind" and other choice descriptions.

So Cruz had no choice but to mount his own faux-filibuster, which went nowhere. The Senate passed a clean bill to fund the government, and the rest is history.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the national stage: The president decided not to cave, and Republicans treated this as if it were shocking that he would not gut his single biggest legislative achievement.

Shutdown endgame
Defunding Obamacare a 'fool's errand'
McKeon: Enrollment in 'single digits'

But something else happened, too. The health care exchanges -- the heart of Obamacare -- came online, and it was a mess. The White House that had been lauded for its technical acumen suddenly looked like a bunch of Luddites. The system crashed, bobbed and frustrated. The White House refused to release reliable numbers so the public's level of participation could be gauged.

It landed with one big thud, which would have been a big problem for the administration, except for this: Nobody was talking about it, because the country was preoccupied with the shutdown.

So Republicans had accomplished the seemingly impossible: They trampled their own message on Obamacare. They finally had a great hook. But what were they doing instead? Scrambling to find ways to re-fund parts of the government to curb public outrage.

Great strategy.

Oh, and by the way, we could wind up paying all of those furloughed workers. Sure, this isn't their fault. But look at it this way: A government drowning in red ink is paying people not to work.

Another great moment.

All of which brings us up to date in this dysfunctional story. So Obamacare had a crashing start, the government is shut down, and the deadline to raise the debt ceiling is a week away. And the debt ceiling, as you know by now, is the bigger problem: no Social Security checks, no Medicare, high interest rates, and on and on. Everyone -- save for some debt ceiling deniers -- believes it can't happen. So what to do?

If you look closely here, you will see that something very profound has changed: Republicans seem to have pressed the delete key on talk of defunding Obamacare. They can't get it done. Their poll numbers are tanking. They're panicking. And some cooler heads I have spoken with are privately making the same point: Wasn't it always unfair to promise people something the Republicans knew they could never deliver (defunding Obamacare)?

So Boehner, no fool, carefully turned the page on all of this, moving to the terra firma he always wanted to be on in the first place: deficit reduction. Tie a package of spending cuts to raising the debt ceiling, he says. That's what has always been done. We are being reasonable about this.

No, says the president. You're not being reasonable. You tried to kill my health reform bill, so no negotiation until you fund the government and raise the debt ceiling without anything attached.

In the end, they will probably find a short-term way to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling and continue to argue over spending and taxes. But the House GOP scheme, abetted by Cruz and outside conservatives, will become a case for the civics classes. A study of the newly perverse politics of our time, and how a government was brought to its knees over a fight only a few wanted to wage -- that everyone secretly knew could never be won.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:27 PM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 8:12 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT