For Republicans thinking of running for president in 2016, one imperative may be rising fast: not to be Bob Dole.
The former Kansas senator was the partys nominee for president in 1996, in the campaign that followed the last big government shutdowns. His opponent, Bill Clinton, succeeded in wrapping the brouhaha then, as now, blamed more on Republicans in Congress than on the Democratic president around Doles neck, tight as a noose and just as lethal, politically.
In ads and speeches, Clinton repeatedly castigated the Dole-Gingrich agenda, tying the senator to the prime mover behind the shutdowns, House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Dole was trapped, as repudiating Clinton by pointing out the differences between himself and Gingrich, a fellow Republican, would have alienated the Gingrich backers Dole needed in his White House bid.
The course of the current shutdown is not clear including whether it will be shorter or longer than the 26 days total the government closed its doors in two periods the winter before the 1996 election. Already, however, members of Congress are vastly unpopular, and catching the same sort of blame as Gingrichs army did back then, particularly as the victims of shutdown are delineated: kids with cancer; military families; emergency workers.
For those who would be GOP candidates next time, then, a little distancing is in order.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, for one, has taken on the Washington contretemps as Example A of how not to do things an approach that artfully helps to demonstrate his willingness to work with Democrats, the dominant party in the state in which hes seeking re-election.
I told my staff today: If I were down there, I would say, Listen, weve got seven hours to go. Guess where youre spending the next seven hours? Right here in the Roosevelt Room. Were not leaving until we get a solution to this problem, the Republican governor said in Red Bank earlier this week.
I think everybodys handled it poorly, Christie said.
Later, at a groundbreaking for a university building in Glassboro, he pounded home the message again with the help of state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat who lauded Christie for working with his party to boost the states education spending.
As Steve very well put it, it is in stark contrast to what were seeing right now in the nations capital, where not only wont people work together, they wont even talk to each other, Christie said. And you know that doesnt happen here even when were angry with each other we dont let ourselves stop talking to each other.
A potential 2016 competitor, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, used his position as chairman of the Republican Governors Association to stiff-arm his compadres in the Capitol.
Republican governors are not going to take a back seat to anyone in Washington anymore, he said in a statement, adding: We are no longer going to outsource the Republican brand to the talking heads in Washington. We are not going to allow the Republican Party to be defined by the dysfunction in Washington.
It can be a little tougher to gain distance from a perch inside the Capitol. On Wednesday, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman outlined for reporters a grand framework for the budget that he called a step in the right direction. Portman, who was short-listed for vice president on the 2012 Republican ticket, said he was trying to sell both parties on his plan.
He brushed aside the current effort to force delays or defunding of President Obamas health care law.
We fought that fight; we fought hard, he said. Weve done what we can do at this point, including taking the government into shutdown.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, meanwhile, was also seeking a bit of remove from the dust-up that he, more than anyone else, had forced. (Cruz kicked off the effort with a 21-hour verbal tour de force that included references to Nazis, the Star Wars empire and Green Eggs and Ham.)
Were in a shutdown for one reason, he declared Wednesday, blaming it all on the Democratic Senate leader. Harry Reid wants a shutdown.