Based on what he told reporters in a conference call this morning, I guess Saxby Chambliss is taking talk of a primary challenge seriously:
“My message to you, Mister President, is you’d better strap on your chin strap very tight because this junkyard dog is going to address spending cuts and entitlement reform in the debt-ceiling debate, and that’s going to be a line in the sand for us Republicans and conservatives.”
Junkyard dogs wearing helmets and chin straps while drawing lines in the sand?
Look, I understand the political pressures that drive such statements. But I just don’t think that Chambliss and his Republican colleagues have thought this debt-ceiling strategy through very well. They’re picking bad ground on which to fight, and once it’s all over, they’re likely to end up even more embarrassed and politically vulnerable than they are today.
And I’m not alone in that thinking. As columnist Kimberley Strassel puts it in the Wall Street Journal:
“In the non-abstract, failure to raise government borrowing limits means U.S. default — and with it potential credit downgrades, market panic and resulting economic distress. Is the GOP willing to inflict that on the economy?”
The WSJ editorial board also seems quite skeptical of the strategy, advocating instead a much more measured, “small-ball” approach to the next two years:
“We’ll support efforts to cut spending and reform entitlements, but the political result will be far worse if Republicans start this fight only to cave in the end. You can’t take a hostage you aren’t prepared to shoot. Do the two GOP leaders have a better strategy today than they did in 2011, and do they have the backbench support to execute it?”
You can’t take a hostage that you aren’t prepared to shoot. Are you REALLY prepared to shoot, Sen. Chambliss? Are you really ready to do to the U.S. economy what William Tecumseh Sherman did to Atlanta? And if not, what happens when your bluff is called?
Maybe I’m wrong here, but when the WSJ editorial board is warning that maybe, just maybe, you’ve gotten a bit radical and need to dial it back, you might want to reconsider all this junk-yard dog stuff.
Even Newt Gingrich, a man not known for political caution, thinks this confrontational approach is doomed to major failure:
As Gingrich put it:
“They’ve got to find, in the House, a totally new strategy. Everybody’s now talking about, ‘Oh, here comes the debt ceiling.’ I think that’s, frankly, a dead loser. Because in the end, you know, it’s gonna happen. The whole national financial system is going to come in to Washington and on television and say: ‘Oh my God, this will be a gigantic heart attack, the entire economy of the world will collapse. You guys will be held responsible.’ And they’ll cave.”
Again, when some of your most dogmatic, aggressive supporters are already questioning the wisdom of your approach, with crunch time still a couple of months away, maybe just maybe you ought to reconsider.
Because once you shoot your hostage, you know what happens next?
– Jay Bookman