In an interview with The Washington Post, National Review Washington editor Robert Costa explained how conservative talk radio and Fox News have helped to launch and sustain the ongoing government shutdown.
The federal government is currently shut down after House Republicans refused to pass legislation to fund the government unless that legislation also defunded or delayed the rollout of the Obamacare health reform law. This effort was the culmination of the "Williamsburg Accord," a legislative strategy formulated by the GOP in January 2013 that "took the form of trying to wrest concessions from Obama by provoking a series of crises."
Costa, a writer that Post columnist Ezra Klein explains is "one of the best-sourced reporters among House Republicans," lays out how House Speaker John Boehner has lost leverage with the GOP caucus in the past year. According to Costa, Boehner can't pass a bill that only continues government funding (called a "clean continuing resolution"), which would end the current impasse, because that would "create chaos" thanks largely to "30 or 40 hardliners" in the House.
Asked by Klein whether another Republican could step into Boehner's role and possibly forge a solution, Costa posited that Boehner isn't the hold up. Instead, Costa says, outside groups have created "an atmosphere of fear among the members." And thanks to members living "in the conservative world of talk radio and tea party conventions and Fox News invitations...the conservative strategy of the moment, no matter how unrealistic it might be, catches fire":
EZRA KLEIN: How much of this is a Boehner problem and how much of this is a House Republicans problem? Which is to say, if Boehner decided to retire tomorrow, is there another House Republican who has enough trust and allegiance in the conference that he or she could manage the institution more effectively?
ROBERT COSTA: What we're seeing is the collapse of institutional Republican power. It's not so much about Boehner. It's things like the end of earmarks. They move away from Tom DeLay and they think they're improving the House, but now they have nothing to offer their members. The outside groups don't always move votes directly but they create an atmosphere of fear among the members. And so many of these members now live in the conservative world of talk radio and tea party conventions and Fox News invitations. And so the conservative strategy of the moment, no matter how unrealistic it might be, catches fire. The members begin to believe they can achieve things in divided government that most objective observers would believe is impossible. Leaders are dealing with these expectations that wouldn't exist in a normal environment.
Support for a shutdown and the protracted fight over defunding Obamacare hasn't been monolithic among conservative media, with prominent voices like Karl Rove and Charles Krauthammer speaking out against the strategy.
But many of the most vocal agitators in the conservative bubble cheered on congressional efforts to demand the defunding or delay of Obamacare as a condition of funding the government. They have also been applying serious pressure on Congressional Republicans to stick to their guns during the shutdown
On his Fox News program last night, Sean Hannity said that the "worst outcome" for House Republicans would be "to cave" at this point, even if it means a shutdown lasting for "a month or two months or however long the president wants to be arrogant and not talk to anybody."
On his radio program earlier in the day, Hannity encouraged Republicans to "hold the line" and "stand on your principle" by continuing efforts to defund health care reform.
Similarly, fellow blowhard Mark Levin told his radio audience yesterday that Republicans like Reps. Peter King and Michael Grimm -- whom he called out by name -- that support passing a cleancontinuing resolution are supporting "the suicide of the nation" and "contributing to the nation's decline."
Prior to the shutdown, conservative media figures like Hannity and Levin had been cheerleading the GOP's dead-end Obamacare defunding strategy for months. Hannity has called the defunding fight the "hill to die on" and told his radio listeners that he will refuse to support "anybody that doesn't vote to defund Obamacare." He's also explicitly threatened Congressional Republicans, saying that "we'll primary you and we'll get rid of you" if you don't support the defunding fight.