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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Which side of the shutdown mess gets most of the blame?

Published: Sunday, Oct. 6 2013 12:00 p.m. MDT

The Capitol in Washington is seen under an overcast sky at dawn, Monday, Oct. 7, 2013. The government shutdown entered its second week with no end in sight and ominous signs that the United States was closer to the first default in the nation's history as Speaker John Boehner ruled out any measure to boost borrowing authority without concessions from President Barack Obama.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

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Politics this week is all about the partial government shutdown. Our thoughts:

Which side gets most of the blame?

Pignanelli: “I am glad the government is shut down ... for the first time in years it’s safe to talk on the phone and send emails without anybody listening in!” — Jay Leno

In this political wrestling match the GOP is ignoring or decimating every fundamental rule of public relations strategy. For example, they are fighting something (Obamacare) with nothing. If there was a solid alternative Republicans could rally around, the battle cry would be “Replace Obamacare” instead of the weak current theme of “defund Obamacare” and the resulting public perceptions would be very different. A substantial percentage of Americans are suspicious of the president’s health care reform, yet don’t understand most of the details and impact to them. They perceive a government shutdown to be a greater threat to their livelihood.

Four weeks of government inaction in 1995-96 transformed perceptions of Bill Clinton as a clueless, irrelevant doofus into a competent statesman that oozed presidential grandeur. If the stock market tanks — along with consumer spending — in the next several weeks, “no drama Obama” will be rehabilitated from his current problems, as Americans will crave his steadiness. The Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress, signed by the president and upheld by the Supreme Court. So the measure can only be killed by starving government — jeopardizing 401(k)s and a struggling economy — which the country will not tolerate. Both parties deserve blame for the government strangulation, but because the GOP lacks a coherent strategy — they suffer the most. Republicans are fulfilling Gov. Bobby Jindal’s observations that they are the stupid party.

Webb: Republicans are going to lose politically because, thanks mostly to rigid ideologues, they’re using foolish and illogical strategy to fight Obamacare and big government.

I appreciate the fact that some Republicans feel they are taking a principled stand. I’m sure General Custer felt he was making a principled stand before he and his troops were massacred. Fighting Obamacare and long-term deficit spending is a lengthy war. In a war you sometimes lose a skirmish, sometimes retreat, save your ammo, and wait for reinforcements instead of charging headlong into a firefight seriously outgunned and outmanned with no hope of winning — however strong your principles.

Republicans have (or had) realistic hope of gaining reinforcements by winning control of the Senate in 2014 and the presidency in 2016. Then they could really attack the size and expense of government and win the real war. But they won’t take either the Senate or the presidency if they continue to alienate mainstream voters all over the country.

President Obama and the Democrats are certainly taking the country in the wrong direction. Their big-government, budget-busting policies threaten economic disaster. But let’s fight them smartly. Let’s use solid strategy.

What are the political ramifications for Utah’s members of Congress?

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