The strategy has never worked for the GOP’s right flank, but they’re going down the same path anyway.

Russell Berman
September 9, 2015

Conservatives in Congress are mounting what will likely be a futile fight to defund Planned Parenthood, even if it means shutting down the entire federal government.

Just those first 12 words amount to the journalistic equivalent of “It was a dark and stormy night…” This is a path the Republican Party’s right flank has been down several times before since 2011, and they’ve never succeeded in achieving the policy outcome for which they began their fight in the first place. In 2013, conservatives forced a government shutdown over the funding of Obamacare. It lasted two-and-a-half weeks, but when the doors reopened, the healthcare law was untouched. Earlier this year, conservatives again held up federal funding, this time for the Department of Homeland Security, as part of a battle to block President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Ultimately, Republicans caved, DHS stayed open, and the president’s policy went forward—until it was blocked by the courts in a move completely unrelated to the maneuverings in Congress.

The strategy is a total loser. It has never worked, and yet it is one that conservatives continue to embrace as a means of battling a pair of bogeymen that their supporters revile with just about equal fervor: the Obama administration and the GOP leadership.

How is that possible?

In the view of conservatives, Republican leaders have never actually waged the full fight to the bitter end. Even when they brought the nation to the brink of default in 2011. Even when they shut down the government two years later. And even when they nearly let homeland-security funding lapse earlier this year. The party leadership always blinked, eventually. Nevermind that Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell folded each time only after Republicans had incurred substantial political damage, and only after the White House and congressional Democrats had made clear they would move no further. According to this thinking, if GOP leaders had held out a little longer, a conservative victory would have been at hand.

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