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John Patrick Grace: Government shutdown plunged GOP to lowest rating ever

Oct. 29, 2013 @ 11:41 AM

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, apparently thought that Republicans could defund Obamacare -- or at least delay for one year the individual mandate to purchase insurance -- if they shut down the federal government. And it seems he and his allies sold the shutdown to their base on that premise.

A major misstep.

Funding for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was separately mandated and went completely untouched by the 16-day shutdown that saw 800,000 federal employees furloughed.

Cruz and company also thought the American people would stand with them through the shutdown and join them in their disdain for Obama, the Democrats and the ACA. That proved to be another miscalculation.

The shutdown was said to have cost the U.S. economy $24 billion in lost economic output. The value of federal employees' work for two-plus weeks was also lost, but not a nickel saved as all of them will receive back pay for their time on furlough (which even Cruz himself voted for).

Because of the shutdown, favorability in national polls for the Republican party took a dive to an all-time low of 32 percent, Cruz's own favorability rating dropped to 23 percent nationally, and approval for U.S. House Republican representatives, as a body, hit an unbelievable low of just 8 percent.

Meanwhile, of all things, views of Obamacare rose from 31 percent favorable as the shutdown began to 42 percent favorable just after the shutdown ended. And President Barack Obama's favorable rating climbed from 44 percent to 50 percent in the same period.

All these ratings switches occurred despite the terrible glitches in the federal websites to help people pore over their healthcare insurance choices and make purchases. The unexpectedly high outpouring of interest in browsing Obamacare options was cited as one factor in the websites' crashing or otherwise not performing well.

When the "establishment" Republicans such as Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sens. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., and Saxby Chamblis, R-Ga., saw the poll numbers for their party, they put their collective foot down against Cruz and the Tea Party.

So did Wall Street and even, of all people, the primary financial sponsors of the ultra-rightwing Tea Party, the Koch brothers, who penned a letter to the U.S. Senate stating that they had not encouraged the shutdown as a way of derailing Obamacare.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, finally scheduled a vote in the House on the eve of what would have been a disastrous default on the national debt and in one fell swoop brought about the end of the shutdown and also the raising of the debt ceiling to assure the nation would be able to pay its bills for the next six weeks. He did so with 100 percent of Democrats voting in favor joined by 87 Republicans. That meant 144 Republicans voted against the deal.

The Republicans' antics in triggering and promoting the shutdown, then compromising to end it, reminded me of Jimmy Breslin's novel "The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight."

Ultra-conservative broadcast pundit Ann Coulter summed up much Tea Party reaction to the whole brouhaha when she proclaimed that "the shutdown was magnificent -- beautifully run."

Business donors to Republican coffers apparently think otherwise. The Democratic National Party has been outraising its Republican counterpart four to one since the shutdown. The trend away from bankrolling Republican contenders for the 2014 congressional elections, at this stage at least, does not bode well for the GOP's hopes of keeping their majority in the House and also taking over the Senate.

John Patrick Grace formerly worked as a reporter, editor and foreign correspondent for The Associated Press. He is currently a book editor and publisher based in Huntington.

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