The Public Weighs In on the Shutdown

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by Karl Rove,

from Wall Street Journal,

Republicans get a thumbs down, but Obama’s poll numbers aren’t good either.

Polls show both parties are suffering in the government shutdown and debt-ceiling fights. The numbers for Republicans are marginally worse than those for President Obama and Democrats, but no one is escaping without damage.

For example, an Oct. 3-6 CNN poll found 63% are angry with Republicans for how they’ve handled the shutdown compared with 57% angry with Democrats and 53% angry with Mr. Obama. No surprises here.

Congressional Republicans are in a difficult spot because there are just enough members who share the attitude of Indiana Rep. Marlin Stutzman, who insists, “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” In general, it’s not wise to engage in a battle without having an endgame.

Still, the president is also in real difficulty. If Americans believe Washington is a mess, then the unquestionable leader of Washington—the president—suffers along with everyone else. That’s why 57% of respondents in an Oct. 2-3 Gallup poll said that they felt more negative about Mr. Obama “as a consequence of the shutdown,” while 28% felt more positive.

The week before he was first elected, Mr. Obama’s favorable/unfavorable rating in the Fox News poll was 57%-39%. It took four years to drop to 53%-45% in Oct. 2012 and just one more year to fall to 47%-50% this month. A new Associated Press-GfK survey out yesterday had his approval rating down to 37%.

It is mystifying why Mr. Obama has weakened himself by being so unwilling to negotiate.

It’s impossible to know the president’s motivation. It could be fear of criticism from his party’s left. It may be that he views himself as an emperor. It may be genuine contempt for his opposition. Or it may be some combination of these.

This much seems clear: Mr. Obama is weakening not just Republicans but himself by his failure to lead.

Mr. Obama believed this showdown would break Republicans. What he didn’t realize is that by not bending himself, he might break his own presidency.

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