Republican Congressman Argues That the 1996 Shutdown “Boosted” Republicans

Newt Gingrich agrees Republicans won the 1995-’96 government shutdown battle.

Photo by CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images

The official Republican party line on the continuing resolution is that Nobody Wants a Shutdown Except for the Democrats. As members of Congress talk to voters in their districts (they’re not back at work until tomorrow), as their offices blast out press releases, they repeat this line like a mantra. “I don’t know a single Republican that wants a government shutdown,” says Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks. “There are no winners in a government shutdown,” says California Rep. Buck McKeon.

Unfortunately for message-focused Republicans, Texas Rep. Steve Stockman exists. Responding to some questions on Twitter, he argued that a shutdown might benefit the GOP, and that the official history of the 1995 shutdown was all wrong.

Stockman can say this because he’s completely safe—his district gave 73 percent of the vote to Mitt Romney in 2012, 16 points better than Romney’s overall Texas vote. Not too long ago, it was safe for other Republicans to say it. Around 2009 and 2010, many of them started to argue that the 1995 shutdown would have been winnable, had the party been confident enough to stare down Bill Clinton and the media. In 2010, when I asked Newt Gingrich whether the party should defund Obamacare (a fanciful idea at that point—well, still pretty fanciful, but this was before the party won the House), Gingrich stopped me and accused me of holding “the standard, elite, inside-the-Beltway worldview.”

“Tell me in what way we didn’t win,” said Gingrich. “After that, we got to a balanced budget. And what happened to the Republican majority? … We took a liberal Democratic president and stopped him in his tracks. We got on track for four years of balanced budgets. We had the slowest rate of increase [in spending] since Calvin Coolidge. And we re-elected a Republican Congress for the first time since 1928. Which of those is bad?”

Conservatives like to blame media bias, that reliable ol’ piñata, when they’re accused of being ready to shut down the government. Alternate theory: In their hearts, they really do think they would win a shutdown fight, and they’re less inclined than Democrats to avoid it.