Republicans made a huge mistake during the government shutdown of 1995, and could replay it now if they don’t hold together. The 1995 shutdown ended when Republicans surrendered to Clinton. Newt Gingrich was an excellent strategist and a poor tactician. We now know that he made a crucial error just as Republicans were on the verge of winning the debate over the government budget. The Democrats were just about to give in to the Republicans, but Newt Gingrich waived the white flag first.
John Fund, at National Review Online:
While many Republicans now believe the shutdown was a mistake, more think the problem was that the party lost its nerve.
Former Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos, now host of ABC’sThis Week, has validated that view. In his memoir, he wrote that Democrats, until then holding out against the Republicans’ budget-limiting efforts, were close to blinking. “Clinton was grumpy, the rest of us were grim,” until suddenly news came that Senate majority leader Bob Dole and House speaker Newt Gingrich were blinking first. “Whether the cause was hubris, naïveté, or a failure of nerve,” Stephanopoulos explained, “the Republicans had blown their best chance to splinter our party; from that point on, everything started breaking our way.”
Dick Morris, then a top Clinton strategist, agrees with Stephanopoulos’s analysis. In his book Behind the Oval Office: Getting Reelected Against All Odds he writes, “We were greatly surprised when the Republicans surrendered by offering to reopen the government without getting a budget deal and without any commitments from us other than to balance the budget in seven years based on [Congressional Budget Office] numbers. We all knew this was GOP surrender.”
James Taranto says it’s likely Republicans are winning right now due to Democrats overplaying their hand and making several missteps:
…we’ve been surprised this week at the Democrats’ tactical maladroitness. As Josh Jordan quipped yesterday on Twitter: “Since the shutdown began, Obama and [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid have taken tough stands against the two most villainous groups: WWII veterans and kids with cancer.”
We’ll see. Republicans have a long history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, even when all they have to do to win is stand their ground.