John Boehner (AP Photo)
The numbers that matter in Washington are not the ones tossed around in discussions of debt ceilings or continuing resolutions.
The numbers that matter are found in the polls of public reaction to the ongoing government shutdown, and to the prospect that a bad circumstance could grow dramatically worse with the undermining of the “full faith and credit” of the federal government.
Those poll numbers explain why there has been at least some movement on the part of House Republicans—who engineered the shutdown as part of a scheme to derail implementation of the Affordable Care Act—to back down from their most hardline positions.
The latest data from NBC News and The Wall Street Journal is devastating for the GOP.
Fifty-three percent of Americans surveyed blame the GOP for the shutdown, while just 31 percent blame President Obama. Overall, approval ratings for the president are far better than those for the Republicans, and approval of the Affordable Care Act has spiked since the standoff began.
To the extent that this is a blame game, the Republicans are shouldering the burden. Indeed, their circumstance is far worse than in the shutdown of the mid-1990s. Then, only 44 percent of Americans blamed the Gingrich-led Republicans, while 33 percent blamed then-President Bill Clinton.
But this isn’t merely a blame game.
This is politics. And politics is a competition for power.
So the numbers that really matter are those that suggest there might have been some truth in the July 2013, observation by Congressman Tom Cole, the savvy senior Republican from Oklahoma, that “the only way Republicans will lose the House is to shut down the government or default on the debt.”
Forty-seven percent of Americans surveyed for NBC now say they would like to see Democrats take charge of the US House of Representatives.
A mere 39 percent want the Republicans to retain control.
Some recent surveys suggest an even greater swing, with a Quinnipiac University National Poll putting Democrats up nine points.
In the fresh NBC poll, the lean toward the Democrats has increased five points over the past month, as the shutdown fight has evolved. In other words, as this fight has progressed, the Democratic position has improved at a rate of better than one percentage point per week. In politics, that’s a dramatic shift.