We've been in the midst of crass politics for three solid weeks now, so it doesn't seem that unbecoming to engage in some more of the same, here at the end of the shutdown/default crisis. Oh, I know, John Boehner tried to get emotional and proclaim "This is not some damn game!" but we all knew, on a certain level, that is was indeed a damn game. As well as a damn shame.
The game's name is politics, and we've been playing it forever. But that doesn't stop us from proclaiming who came out of the mess a winner, and who now bears the loser label. So while you may disagree with some of these picks, here's how we see the lay of the land as things now stand (as we wait for tonight's late-night voting).
The biggest winner in the last three weeks is none other than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid not only was the chief negotiator for the Democratic side, but he conducted these negotiations from a position of strength (for once). Reid initially compromised on the sequester issue, but after Republicans tried the old "Democrats haven't given anything up!" line, and after poll after poll showed the Republican brand sinking like a lead balloon, Reid returned to the negotiating table with vigor last weekend. "Here is our new deal," Reid told Mitch McConnell. Reid pushed several Democratic demands, and McConnell realized he didn't have a leg to stand on. Rather than continue the destruction of the Republican Party, McConnell realized he had to back off on the Republican issues he was demanding -- which is what made today's deal so neutral. There is no change in the medical device tax, for instance, because of Reid's negotiating tactics. Reid was in a position of strength, and he made McConnell realize it and back off. Which is why Reid is truly the biggest winner.
President Barack Obama -- much to the surprise of both his opponents and a large portion of his supporters -- did not cave. He held firm. He drew a line in the sand, and he stuck to it. He didn't blink. Use whatever metaphor you choose, but the fact is that Obama showed some real backbone throughout the crisis. When he said "non-negotiable," he really meant non-negotiable. This shocked a lot of people. But then again, he doesn't have to worry about ever getting elected again, so he has the freedom to show a stronger hand than he did in his first term. Obama showed more backbone in the past three weeks than he has since he took office in 2009, in fact. And he won -- across the board. Reid could never have gotten the deal he had without Obama's determination not to play the hostage game on any level. It was a big gamble, but it paid off.
The Democrats (for once) not only showed backbone (led by Obama and Reid and Pelosi), but they held their caucus together in admirable fashion. It's easy to say in hindsight that the Tea Party Republicans were foolish to push the issue as far as they did, but you have to remember that normally it is the Democrats who split and cross the aisle. In other words, the Tea Partiers weren't exactly crazy to think they might have peeled off enough Democrats to get their way. Democrats in both the House and Senate stayed absolutely united and held firm throughout the whole crisis, though. Let's hope they learn from this and do so again in the future.
Boehner really should be counted as a winner and a loser, of course. Some might be shocked to see his name on this list, but Boehner did win something substantial in the fight -- he gets to keep being Speaker of the House. Allowing his strings to be pulled so obviously by the Tea Party will weaken him in his job, but it also prevented a challenge to his leadership. Because he fought so long and so hard for what the Tea Partiers wanted, they seem in the mood to forgive him for ultimately caving and allowing a bill to be passed mostly by Democrats. If he had done so at the start of the fight (instead of the bitter, bitter end), he probably would have been challenged for the speakership. Now, it looks like he has avoided this outcome, making him a winner within his own party.
Another name some might consider strange on this list is Ted Cruz. He led the Republican Party on a gigantic windmill-tilting crusade which was doomed to fail from the very start, and which has now utterly failed (as everyone outside the Tea Party predicted it would). So it seems like he'd be counted a loser in all of this, especially when you consider how annoyed many of his fellow Republicans now are at Ted Cruz. But the Tea Party loved it. He's raised over a million bucks for his campaign chests recently, and he has absolutely led the Tea Party faction since the fight began. Which means he has positioned himself perfectly to be the 2016 Tea Party's frontrunner candidate for president -- exactly what he wished to achieve. Which, painful as it is, makes him a winner.
DeMint quit the Senate to run the Heritage Foundation, of course. Their lobbying side (Heritage Action) flexed its muscles yesterday, and killed John Boehner's cobbled-together last-minute bill to appease the Tea Party. Insiders report that once DeMint weighed in on the bill, within 20 minutes the proposal was dead within the Republican caucus. That is real power. More power, in fact, than John Boehner wields. Looks like DeMint made the right career choice after all.
Senator Collins was instrumental in pulling Senate Republicans to the table to hammer out a deal. She has emerged from the fray as the sanest Republican in the Senate (and, by extension, the whole Congress). That is a solid win for her, and you can bet Democrats will be seeking her out the next time we approach a fiscal disaster-in-the-making.
Obamacare emerged unscathed from this battle, which is nothing short of astonishing. Even progressives had all but resigned themselves to Obama allowing some sort of tinkering with the law in order to toss Boehner some sort of legislative bone, but in the end (due to Reid's masterful negotiating) Obamacare was not impacted one tiny little bit. Also, the three worst weeks of the Obamacare exchange website's introduction were all but buried in the news stories about the shutdown -- which is another clear victory which allowed for fixes to be implemented without Congress and the media second-guessing each and every one of them.
Today's outcome is precisely the one anyone with any common sense has been predicting all along. Boehner would have to cave at some point, sane individuals have been saying for weeks, and now it is happening. That's a solid win for reality, over the fantasy world some Tea Partiers live in, where they envisioned President Obama saying "OK, let's just kill Obamacare, you're right and I'm wrong."
Everyone is looking for how this fracas is going to affect 2014, but the next national election is when public disgust at the Tea Party may be most obvious on a nationwide scale (rather than just in gerrymandered House districts). And that is likely going to help the Democratic nominee in the presidential race. Which is likely to be Hillary Clinton. So this win won't become apparent for years, but I bet somewhere Hillary is smiling at today's outcome.
The biggest losers in today's news are, of course, the Tea Party. They ignored reality and went for broke (quite literally), and they utterly and completely lost. They pinned their hopes on and end game built out of fairy dust and moonbeams, and they now have nothing to show for it. Rather than negotiate in good faith -- which likely would have gotten them a much better deal than the one they now are forced to accept -- they decided to burn the house down to prove their point. Not only did they overreach, but now the civil war within the Republican Party is front and center in the public's attention. Tea Party extremism is turning a lot of people off, and hostage-taking instead of governing is shown as the fraud it always was. One can only hope that this will diminish their power in the months to come, but we may have to get beyond the threat of "being primaried" before the Tea Party starts being treated as the unruly faction it is. But in this fight, the Tea Party is the biggest loser, hands down.
Almost as big a loser in the public eye as the Tea Party is the Republican Party. By roughly 3-to-1, the American people disapprove of the Republican Party right now. To put this in perspective, even after impeaching Bill Clinton, the Republican Party only got roughly as bad as 2-to-1 with the public. The Republican/Tea Party civil war sent a very loud message to America: "We cannot govern, so please take this responsibility away from us." We'll see whether American voters remember this, next November -- even with all of those gerrymandered districts. But for right now, the Republican brand has taken a brutal beating.
The idea of Congress, in the abstract, also comes out a loser. People who don't follow every cloture vote and every quorum call on a daily basis came away from the whole shutdown thinking "a pox on both their houses," Congress in particular. One poll proved that people have a higher opinion of hemorrhoids and "dog poop" than they do of Congress. Which pretty much sums it up.
Mitch McConnell may take the brunt of the heat from within his own party for the deal, since he was the one who negotiated the Republican position. He's in a tough re-election race against both a Tea Partier and a solid Democrat, and this is just going to weaken him from both sides in this upcoming fight. While I give him credit for remaining at the table when all other Republicans had fled, the deal he struck is not going to win him many points from Republicans.
"Who?" you may well ask. Ken Cuccinelli is the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia. The election is just around the corner. And Cuccinelli is a Tea Partier's Tea Partier. He's as fringey as they come, even out on the Tea Party fringe. But, due to Democrats putting up an incredibly weak candidate, he might have eked out a victory if the shutdown hadn't happened. Now, he's likely to lose. Virginia is home to major military bases, major naval repairs facilities, the Pentagon, and millions of others personally affected by the shutdown and furlough (and the sequester, as well). So even normal Republican voters in Virginia are going to think long and hard about what it would mean for their state to elect a Tea Party looney right about now.
The American people
The American people, of course, are the biggest losers in this whole mess. For the obvious reasons. The biggest loss is the fact that we're going to have this exact same fight all over again, in three months' time. That's right, folks -- January and February will now be consumed with exactly the same battles. Just in time for Groundhog Day, in fact.
Eric Cantor is a loser because if John Boehner really had triggered the wrath of the Tea Party, Cantor was the best-positioned to step into the speakership in his place. For anyone who has lived through the past three weeks in dread, imagine how exponentially multiplied that dread would be in the next fight with "Speaker Cantor." I shudder even to think of the possibility, personally.
Marco Rubio didn't really stick his neck out too much in this fight, but he's a loser all the same. Because after his immigration proposal caused a noticeable weakening of his Tea Party support, he has now watched Ted Cruz muscle his way in to being the "Tea Party favorite" for 2016.
The biggest loser in this whole fight is an intangible, and one that most Americans won't even notice, really. The whole concept of "American exceptionalism" is born of several ideas: America's unchallenged military might, the robust American economy which leads the world, and the soundness of the American dollar as the favorite reserve currency for the rest of the planet. The shutdown -- and, more important, the threat of default -- has shaken a lot of the confidence others in the world have in the American nation and in its future. Ironically, it was the same American politicians who normally love to crow about American exceptionalism who have caused this worldwide weakening of the concept.
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