October 20, 2013

The Ted Cruz Republicans made a horrible mess of everything, and the country and the economy are far worse for the experience, but in spite of all the pain and disgust this caused, there is one clear victor out of all this- and you all know who I mean because everyone else including the Republicans are saying it today: the Democrats won this shutdown showdown. By a country mile in a one mile race.

The amazing thing about all this was how incredibly predictable all this was. I’ve been involved in politics for over 30 years now, in national politics for over 25, and this had the single most predictable outcome of any battle I have ever been a witness to. Several weeks back I was telling my friends that this was definitely going to shutdown, that it would drag on and become merged with the debt ceiling fight, and that it would be settled the 15th or 16th, with the Republicans caving on everything that mattered and being devastated in the polling. For me and other veterans of the Clinton-Gingrich shutdown wars (including a lot of the Republicans involved, who were predicting the same disastrous end), this ending was as obvious as obvious could be.

The Cruz Crazies handed us Democrats this victory, all gift-wrapped and pretty as a picture. We would have had to be political morons to kick it away. But Democrats have had their politically moronic moments at times over the years, and in this case, they did not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In this case, they held together and stood strong, kept on message and stopped themselves from scurrying off in a dozen different directions. I have never in my long career seen the Democratic party and their progressive allies more fundamentally unified. By showing this kind of unity, they routed the enemy more easily than the US army routed the army of Grenada in the 1980s, and put themselves in a position to do something no one ever thought they would this cycle: to take back control of the US House.

The lesson of this victory is party unity. It would be a wonderful thing if we all remember this going into the next big fights, the showdowns over the next few months on immigration and the budget. On immigration, it seems like we are mostly there, with Democrats, the immigrants’ rights movement, and progressives generally in close alignment on the legislative strategy going forward.

But I have fears on the budget negotiations that some people inside the Democratic party might decide to start pushing the awful, old idea of a grand bargain - one where Social Security, Medicare, and/old Medicaid benefits are cut. Creating a huge civil war inside the party and progressive movement on these issues would be a disaster for Democrats, and would blow up the chances for major pick-ups in the 2014 elections.

Movement organizations like labor and online groups would gear up to stop Democrats from cutting this deal rather than focusing their fire on Republicans, and the Democratic standing in the polls would slip as we started training fire on each other. Meanwhile the Republicans, currently divided, discouraged, and with their numbers in the toilet, could both exploit the divisions and have the time to get up off the mat and get into fighting form.

According to virtually every poll taken in the last 5+ years, cutting Social Security and Medicare are incredibly unpopular things to do. Even Medicaid, historically the least popular of the 3, has very solid support. The idea that Democrats would stop their strong political momentum dead in its tracks, start a flaming hot civil war within its ranks, and give the Republicans a chance to get back on their feet- all so that they can do something hugely unpopular which cuts benefits from poor and middle class seniors- is bizarre.

That won’t stop the DC establishment punditry from bloviating about now is the perfect time to for the grand bargain, so expect a lot of that talk in the days to come. But what Democrats need to do is to do what they did to win this big victory: stay unified and keep holding Republicans’ feet to the fire. The GOP is in deep, deep trouble right now, and it is up to us to press the advantage.

The Cruz wrecking ball craziness played and ended exactly as a lot of us predicted it would: with a massive loss for the Republican party. Democrats and progressives can keep winning victories if they stand strong for progressive values, and stand together.

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