There is a freakout in full effect throughout Washington. Republicans, we are told, have kicked a hard own goal and given Democrats a chance to portray them as unreliable and crazy. "Republicans will have five weeks outside of Washington to let things settle after Thursday’s breakdown," argues Dan Balz. "They will have time to regroup and try to put this moment behind them."
But is it really so clear that the border bill breakdown is hurting Republicans? Throughout this week, and for several weeks previous, polling suggested that the conservatives had a fine (political) argument for doing nothing. Voters blamed the president, not them, for inaction. Democrats were getting a waning degree of attention for their own Senate "messaging" votes. (Did you realize the Senate had a vote this week to end tax inversion? No? That's my point.) There's very little evidence that voters were paying attention to the border debate within Congress.
What are they paying attention to? As Balz points out, they've seen troubling events closer to home. In North Carolina, for example, Republican nominee for Senate Thom Tillis was seen to be advancing ever since his May 6 primary win.* Yet in July, he fell markedly behind Sen. Kay Hagan for the first time in months.
What happened in July? Trouble at Tillis' day job. He's the speaker of the Republican-run North Carolina House, and he's been tied down by a "short session" called to finish business that had been left undone (or barely started) in the normal session. The coverage, inevitably, has focused on the fact that tax cuts pushed through by Tillis cut into the state's revenue much more (43 percent more) than estimated, and that teacher salary increases that the GOP state resisted in 2013 are being slopped together to inoculate against potential backlash. A new budget cuts $135 million from Medicaid—here as in other red states, Republicans have resisted the ACA's Medicaid expansion—but rescues millions of dollars in tax credits for the film industry. Voters are getting weekly reminders of why they were initially cool on Tillis when he announced his run last year.
But that's one guy who happens to run a state legislature. The actual members of Congress, the ones who keep running nose-first into closed doors? The Cook Political Report just released new ratings that move 17 close races further to the GOP, with the party now expected to win "two to twelve" new seats in November.
*Correction, Aug. 1, 2014: This post originally misspelled Thom Tillis' first name.