Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Harry Reid: King of the Hill

By Paul Begala, CNN Contributor
updated 10:10 AM EDT, Thu October 17, 2013
Visitors walk at the National World War II Memorial after a rally at the monument in Washington on Tuesday, October 15. Activists from veterans groups gathered to protest the partial shutdown of the U.S. government and to rally for resolutions to the budget crisis. Signs of the shutdown can be found across the country. Visitors walk at the National World War II Memorial after a rally at the monument in Washington on Tuesday, October 15. Activists from veterans groups gathered to protest the partial shutdown of the U.S. government and to rally for resolutions to the budget crisis. Signs of the shutdown can be found across the country.
HIDE CAPTION
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paul Begala: The Great Shutdown Showdown of 2013 will go down in history
  • Begala: Republicans were seeking an unattainable goal; they were sure to fail
  • He says Sen. Harry Reid is the undisputed heavyweight champion of the shutdown
  • Begala: A former boxer, Reid kept Democrats united and reached deal with GOP

Editor's note: Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House.

(CNN) -- It is hard for me to recall a victory as total -- or surrender as ignominious -- as the Great Shutdown Showdown of 2013.

Room S-230 of the U.S. Capitol, the office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is where the final deal was struck, and it will join Appomattox, the USS Missouri and Waterloo as the site of an unconditional surrender.

They ought to put up a plaque where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid delivered the tea partying Republicans their worst whipping in a generation.

I'm not sure I have fully absorbed all we have been through these past two weeks in Washington.

The 15-day shutdown saw a deadly shooting at the Capitol, a self-immolation on the National Mall, a citizen waving the Confederate battle flag in front of the White House and World War II veterans storming one last barricade. No one could have predicted all of that.

Paul Begala
Paul Begala

But the outcome itself was a foregone conclusion. Republicans were seeking an unattainable goal: Repealing Obamacare during the presidency of Barack Obama. They were sure to fail. But the circumstances of their defeat -- and the Democratic hero who has emerged -- are worth noting.

Faithful readers of my columns in this space will recall that I predicted the President would prevail in the government shutdown because his party is more united, more mainstream and more reasonable. And, while our President undoubtedly triumphed -- showing a steely resolve that critics thought he lacked -- the undisputed heavyweight champion of the shutdown showdown is Reid. He truly is the King of the Hill.

While the House GOP conference exploded like the finale of a fireworks show, Reid held together a Senate Democratic Caucus that is significantly more diverse. From Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a socialist, to West Virginia's Joe Manchin -- who is so conservative that he shot a rifle at an environmental bill in one of his ads -- Reid kept his forces united.

Calling Reid an ex-boxer is like calling John McCain an ex-naval officer; you really never depart from those deeply ingrained traits. In the gym at Basic High in Henderson, Nevada, Reid learned to box. He learned how to explore your opponent's defenses, how to probe with a jab, when to feint and when to cover up. And when you have your opponent on the ropes, you finish him off.

Reid: Cannot make this mistake again
Has John Boehner been checkmated?
Who lost the government shutdown fight?

Unlike the solitary sport of boxing, politics is a team effort, and Reid led his team with brilliance and bravery. Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Obama are three very different kinds of leaders. And yet they were yoked together in perfect balance; one would lean in while another held back; one would hold an olive branch while a third would talk tough.

The poor Republicans were divided between the realists, who were depressed, and the true believers, who were delusional. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz would strut and admire his plumage, while House Speaker John Boehner alternated between feckless and hapless. In the end it was McConnell who performed last rites on the corpse of Repeal Obamacare.

To be sure, no victory is ever final. No defeat is ever permanent.

Republicans went on to hold the House after their disastrous shutdown of 1995-96, and Obama rebounded from what he called "a shellacking" in the midterm elections of 2010 to win re-election comfortably in 2012. Reid understands that.

He has been a student of politics and a creature of the Hill since he worked his way through law school as a Capitol police officer.

You won't see him dancing around the ring, holding his championship belt over his head. Perhaps he'll have a quiet dinner with his beloved Landra. Then begin training for his next fight.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul Begala.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 1:10 PM EDT, Sat April 19, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT