With apologies to the classic Kenny Rogers song, Democrats knew when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. Though polls showed that they had an advantage, ending the standoff was a good idea, especially with the next deadline looming on February 8 and the promise of a DACA vote and protecting CHIP. Progressives may attack their fellow Democrats, but compromise was best for the party.
Blame for the Shutdown
A Politico/Morning Consult poll showed 41 percent of voters are more likely to blame Republicans than Democrats for the shutdown, while only 36 percent would charge Democrats with being at fault. Republicans blame Democrats and vice versa, but independents are more likely to pin the shutdown on Republicans by a six point margin.
Additionally, Democrats lead Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, and Congress—which the GOP currently controls—has a low approval rating.
A lot of this is because some Republicans fail to understand U.S. voters and their relationship with government. The average American doesn’t want zero government; otherwise anarchist parties like those in Europe would be doing better. Even libertarians, who want the least amount of government among any party consistently on the ballot, have never mustered more than five percent nationally. People want a government that works effectively. And tweets from the GOP cheering the shutdown in an anti-government screed will only guarantee losses in shutdowns.
Why Did Democrats Fold?
Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky allegedly said, “I don’t skate where the puck is. I skate to where it is going.” When it comes to a budget crisis, it’s important to think about the future instead of about what’s happening at the present. And that is what Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was probably thinking when he laid down his cards with a seemingly better hand.
Contrary to what many Republicans were saying, a short-term government shutdown would actually have little effect on the military. Of course, due to Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ comments, there was an outcry among some conservative pundits that soldiers, sailors and marines wouldn’t get to watch the football playoffs on television, forgetting that they were supposed to be boycotting the NFL over kneeling during the National Anthem. Oops.
But a long-term shutdown would likely be a problem. Though a majority of Americans support Democrats on DACA, they most likely would not have done so at the expense of the military. Those polls could flip as servicemen and servicewomen get paid in IOUs. Democrats will have a better chance if there is a separate vote, rather than one tied to issues that Republicans can win on. Already, CNN reported a poll after the shutdown that showed Democrats’ advantage in Congress slipping.
Did Democrats Gain Anything?
Progressives and pundits were quick to blame Democratic leadership for giving in to Republicans. The head of the liberal group CREDO called Schumer the worst negotiator in Washington, D.C. Rep. Luis Gutierrez blamed party leaders for not going to the mat for people in his community. But progressives fail to realize that nearly one-sixth of all Democratic senators who are up for reelection in 2018 represent states that Trump won.
“We gave them nothing,” North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Walker told Politico. But other Republicans, like Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby and South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds admitted it was a draw, and the latter implied that the vote would give Democrats a way out of the crisis.
So what did Democrats get, if anything? Both parties kicked the spending debate past the Super Bowl. But Democrats did get one important thing: a public promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold a vote on DACA. And he has since doubled-down on the promise.
Progressives were quick to attack fellow Democrats, pointing out that McConnell has promised other politicians votes on issues and then reneged. But who remembers those? Everyone now knows what the promise is this time and who to hold responsible if there’s no vote.
Monday’s deal also fully-funded the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six years, an initiative a number of Republicans opposed. If progressives care about children’s health insurance, they should at least partially applaud the deal.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. Read his full bio here.