Why Obama Is Winning the Shutdown Fight

President Barack Obama (Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama (Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty Images)

(The Root) — Thanks to Charlie Sheen, "winning" has now become more than just a word to describe what happens when one team dominates another in a sports arena. It has become a shorthand to describe when someone is flying high in life or at least thinks he is. For this reason, the use of the term "winning" by an anonymous White House official to describe how the administration is faring in the current government shutdown struck many as crass.


According to the Wall Street Journal, "a senior administration official" said, "We are winning … " He or she further added that the duration of the shutdown didn't really matter "because what matters is the end result." The statement immediately drew fire, with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tweeting, "Tell that to the millions affected by the shutdown & #trainwreck," while House Speaker John Boehner alluded to the quote during his fiery press conference on Friday when he snapped, "This isn't some damn game!" The backlash was soon followed by White House spokesman Jay Carney proclaiming that with the ongoing shutdown, "nobody in America wins, and that includes politicians."

But the fact of the matter is, that's not entirely true. President Barack Obama is coming out the winner in this mess. Here's why.

1. The polls say so.

According to every single poll taken since the shutdown, Republicans are bearing much more of the blame for the shutdown than Democrats and, specifically, the president. According to a CBS News poll, 44 percent of Americans blame Republicans in Congress, while 35 percent blame Democrats and the president. A CNN poll found that 69 percent of Americans feel Republicans are acting like "spoiled children," while 47 percent said the same about the president. An ABC News-Washington Post poll found that 63 percent of Americans disapprove of Republicans' handling of shutdown discussions, while 50 percent disapprove of the president's handling of the issue.

Although these are not amazing numbers for Obama, they do confirm that in the blame game for the shutdown, he has the edge. Even more potentially problematic for Republicans, a new series of polls indicates that because of the shutdown, Democrats are now within striking distance of reclaiming the House in the next midterm elections. 

2. President Obama is not up for re-election ever again.

Typically in a shutdown, a president may feel as politically vulnerable as his congressional foes, therefore providing some leverage for congressional leaders to force his hand or at least force him to the negotiating table. For instance, during the 1995 government shutdown, President Bill Clinton knew that he would be facing re-election. But since Obama has already won his second and final term, he does not have that worry. Plenty of Republican (and Democratic) members of the House do, however, especially with midterm elections right around the corner.


3. History is on his side.

After the last government shutdown 17 years ago, Clinton won re-election in 1996. His chief Republican rival, however, Newt Gingrich, faced a coup by his own party and ultimately resigned as speaker of the House. Are you listening, Boehner?


The bottom line is that while the White House official's word choice may have been tasteless and tacky, it certainly wasn't inaccurate. Boehner is correct, however, that this "isn't some damn game." But somehow the president is winning, all the same. 

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter