Some conservative groups, he says, also took a novel approach in demanding that elected officials share not only their policy goals but also their tactics, and treating disagreement over tactics as a betrayal of principle. Their efforts sometimes produced amusing results. The senator’s office got phone calls urging him to vote against “keister” and “cluster” rather than cloture, for instance, and to “stand with Tom Cruise,” presumably meaning Sen. Ted Cruz.
The dysfunction of the last few weeks won’t seriously hurt the Republicans’ chances of taking the Senate next year, in his judgment. But it certainly won’t help. He notes that three Senate candidates — Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Steve Daines of Montana — were among the 87 House Republicans who voted to reopen the government. He thinks that all three still have a good shot at winning in 2014, but not quite as good as they did before the shutdown.
He also expresses a deeper anxiety. At a Senate Republican lunch the day of the vote, someone mentioned that the party wasn’t ready to run the Senate: If Republicans had held a majority in both the House and the Senate, they wouldn’t have been able to pass anything in either chamber. The senator thinks such a turn of events would have been “incredibly damaging.”
He heard a similar sentiment from the other chamber of Congress: House Republicans from his state have told him how much happier some of their colleagues would be if they were in the minority and could just lob spitballs at the Democrats. “We have to really think how we become the governing party,” he says.
By contrast, he says, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell originally had “a realistic strategy” on the budget, one that accurately gauged how much Republicans could achieve. “It was not a go-to-the-moon strategy, but we don’t have enough fuel to get to the moon.”
The questions that his colleagues need to ask themselves, the senator says, are, “What have we learned?” and, “How do we not repeat this?” Most Republican senators, it seems to me, emerged from the shutdown fight with the same views they had going in. Those who thought it was a mistake found confirmation of their views in the party’s sagging poll numbers and lack of accomplishments; those who favored it thought it could have worked if the skeptics hadn’t sabotaged it.
Republicans might still take the Senate next year. They are lucky that control depends on state-by-state contests, and not on voters’ weighing whether they think the party should run the Senate — or has the capacity to do it.