According to Salmon, shutting down the government for more than two weeks probably proved to most people that the feds could do more with less. “Most Americans probably thought, ‘Wait a minute, I thought this was supposed to be cataclysmic.’ Like with sequestration—we were told the sun wouldn’t come out the next morning, and it did. It was much ado about not a lot,” Salmon said. When it hurt, it was because President Obama wanted it to hurt. “We don’t think like that. We don’t shut down monuments to make a shutdown as painful as possible.”
Salmon was one of a half-dozen conservatives who met to talk this over at an on-the-record Wednesday panel sponsored by the Heritage Foundation. As the audience chowed on Chick-fil-A, conservatives denounced any suggestion that the party had been weakened by the shutdown. Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador’s main quibble with the party’s strategy—apart from all the weak-kneed members trashing their colleagues—was that it didn’t raise the debt limit while continuing to debate the continuing resolution, a ploy that would have lengthened the shutdown.
“I actually think we wouldn't have been able to highlight the mistakes of the [healthcare.gov] rollout without the government shutdown,” said Labrador. “Every major newspaper would have relegated it to A7 or A8. Now it's on the front page of every newspaper.”
Even outside the Chick-fil-A chamber, Republicans were full of reasons why the shutdown hadn’t hurt. Arizona Rep. David Schweikert tore into one reporter’s question about the “polls” showing the GOP’s reputation falling. “Did you look at the samples?” asked Schweikert. After the reporter slumped away, Schweikert told me that the media’s polls missed the target.
“We were in the field last week doing some polling,” he said. “I think the left and some of the media supporters on the left are going to be shocked when they look at these underlying numbers—the margin against the health care law among swing voters. The left hates me—the left has always hated me!—the right is with me, and the swing voters are moving. There was some amazing data in there.”
Does this mean that Republicans would enter into another shutdown standoff with no fear? That’s not how they look at it. They view any attempt to blame them for the shutdown, and not the president, as media bias in concentrate. This shutdown proved them right, and they’ll carry that knowledge into the budget battle.
“I think this exposed the president and made clear to the public that he’s unwilling to compromise,” said Michigan Rep. Justin Amash. “There’s going to be a lot of focus over the next few months about the failures of Obamacare. It’ll help Republicans because we stood up and fought—and there’s nobody who can blame Republicans, at this point, for Obamacare. We did what we could.”