How the GOP Lost the Shutdown Fight

Republicans lost this round of the epic budget battle because they still don't take the president seriously.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Speaker of the House John Boehner (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

(The Root) — By the time Americans finish eating Christmas turkey, recover from New Year’s Eve hangovers and start looking ahead to Super Bowl Sunday and President Barack Obama’s sixth State of the Union address, the government shutdown of 2013 will already seem like ancient history.

Poll numbers will shift, issues will change and members of Congress — in both parties — will have spent several weeks back home telling supporters how they fought the good fight in Washington.

So, even if the president stared down Sen. Ted Cruz and House backbenchers to get the government re-opened, he shouldn’t get too complacent. With the Tea Party’s negatives at 49 percent, they’re momentarily chastened, but they’ll find a way to make Obama’s life difficult in 2014.

But for this week, anyway, the takeaway from the GOP’s failure to defund Obamacare — their stated goal at the outset of the shutdown — is that they’ll have a hard time working their political will until they decide to take the president seriously.

Because faced with a shutdown and potentially caving in to the threat of a default that could upend world markets, Obama opted to stand pat and try to avoid instant lame-duck status.

It probably wasn’t a tough choice, and Republicans made it easy for him by calculating that Obama wouldn’t have the balls to call their bluff.

In effect, their game plan — break Obama with Obamacare — and their unwillingness to approach him as a worthwhile adversary, worked to their detriment. Here’s how they underestimated him.

He’s Got Skills

Although now it seems like it was meant to happen all along, six years ago, conventional wisdom said that a black guy probably couldn’t be elected president.

So whether or not Republicans ever decide to reach accommodation with Obama on the critical issues of the day, when challenging him, they ought to keep in mind that a guy from Honolulu, who first ran for president in his late forties and beat a war hero and a governor’s son en route to winning the White House, probably has some political skill.