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Tilly: Ask the hostages

BY ZACH TILLY | SEPTEMBER 30, 2013 5:00 AM

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A new poll from the Des Moines Register provides a look into the heads of Iowa’s Republican voters as they fantasize about the 2016 election, and there appears to be considerable disagreement about the best direction for the party moving forward.

The poll asked Iowans, “What kind of Republican candidate do you think stands the best chance of winning the presidency in the November 2016 election?”

Respondents were asked to choose between three modern Republican archetypes: “a candidate focused on civil liberties and a small government rooted in the U.S. Constitution,” “a business-oriented fiscally conservative candidate,” or “a candidate who emphasizes Christian conservative values.”

Unsurprisingly, the results were split. About a third opted for the Rand Paul-esque civil libertarian, another third for the Romneyite brand of business-friendly conservative, and 17 percent for the Christian conservative in the Santorum vein.

That’s all interesting enough, but it seems to me that this is a pretty idealistic set of candidates considering the current circumstances in Washington, where congressional conservatives are wielding the threat of a government shutdown or default in an attempt to delay Obamacare. Come 2016, the real-life Republicans are going to have considerably more baggage than the Iowa Poll’s hypothetical GOPers.

As such, I’ve got a few follow-up questions for Iowa’s potential Republican voters.

How do you feel about the 2016 prospects of a candidate willing to shut down the government unless the Obama administration agrees to scale back its signature plan to expand health-care coverage in exchange for two months of government funding?

Based on the history of government shutdowns, I expect the answer to that question to be something to the effect of “not great.” After 1995-96, the last time the government shut down over a budget fight, the congressional Republicans led by Newt Gingrich were seriously weakened while President Clinton gained in public esteem.

Threats are one thing, Gingrich learned, but the public’s tolerance of brinksmanship seems to end when those threats turn into material costs. 

Here’s another: How do you feel about the prospects of a candidate willing to bring the American economy to the brink of default and recession — near-certain disaster — in an effort to kill legislation that may or may not harm the economy in the long term?

Though many Iowa Republicans would be happy enough to get Obamacare off the books, I’m sure, the congressional quest to defund the law can hardly be characterized as a crusade to rescue the economy.

If the Republicans stick to their guns and refuse to raise the debt ceiling in October, the government would no longer be able to pay the bills it has racked up and would default on its debts. A default would wreck the country’s credit, tank the markets, and put the country on the path toward another recession.

Calling into question the safety of American debt, one of the world’s most reliable investments, would inflict much greater, much more certain damage to the American economy than the implementation of Obamacare.

So, in 2016, though you may prefer a civil libertarian, a fiscal conservative, or a social conservative, you may be stuck with one of the ideologues currently holding a knife to the throat of the American economy.


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