The GOP’s hardline stance on budget negotiations is proving increasingly brittle as more and more prominent Republicans express concern about shutting down the government rather than accepting a deal. Now two potential presidential candidates, both with impeccable social conservative credentials, are signaling that it’s time to throw in the towel.
The most surprising is Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), the head of the Tea Party caucus in the House and exactly the kind of popular right-wing politician that Boehner would fear alienating by announcing a compromise. In a post on RedState titled “Not a Big Enough Fight,” Bachmann suggested on Friday that Republicans might be better served holding their fire now in favor of more significant battles down the road, like raising the debt limit and passing the 2012 budget. While not a direct call for surrender, it appeared to be an implicit signal that it’s time to move on.
“We must answer the bell that was rung last November when the American people called us to fight for deep cuts in spending, for the full repeal of ObamaCare, for an end to taxpayer funding of abortion, and for a government that will live within its Constitutional boundaries,” she wrote. “Those would be the kind of large-scale fights that could change the arc of history. Unfortunately, the fight that’s happening today in Washington is not even close to being on the same scale.”
Bachmann argued that “the current battle has devolved to an agenda that is almost too limited to warrant the kind of fighting that we’re now seeing in Washington.”
Huckabee, who is known for his pro-life politics and popularity with social conservatives, flat out conceded shutting down the government over policy riders on abortion and women’s health would backfire against the GOP.
“Don’t let the government shutdown because the consequences of that are going to hurt the Republicans, not the Democrats and the Republicans can’t win this battle when it gets down to it,” he told CNN.
Democrats have been launching an all-out messaging assault on Republicans over the abortion provisions over the last 48 hours, and the party has struggled to find a consistent response. Huckabee admitted they had the upper hand.
“As much as I want to see Planned Parenthood defunded, as much as I want to see NPR lose their funding, the reality is the president and the Senate are never going to go along with that so win the deal you can win and live to fight another day,” Huckabee told CNN.
The defections from Bachmann, Huckabee, and other conservative Republicans are significant in that they protect Boehner’s right flank from charges that he sold out conservatives if he accepts a Democratic offer short of the party’s full demands. With the Democrats’ messaging clearly intimidating even some of the most hardline Republicans, he may find his hand too weak to go all in with a shutdown.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.