There really aren't any political figures that look like winners coming out of the debt ceiling debacle - there are just losers, and those who look less bad. As I said in my last post on the subject, the GOP clearly won the fight over the debt ceiling, but I think it will end up costing them dearly in the next election. They won the battle much like a drunk who people will agree with just so they'll shut up. They might get their way, but nobody likes them for it. After taking a slew of House seats in last year's wave election, the GOP made the same mistake the Democrats did in 2009, and are pushing an agenda that is far too extreme for swing voters to stomach.
So, in the long run, the folks on the far right that got the vast majority of what they wanted and still didn't vote for the bill, are the people who look the most childish in all of this. They may be champions of their hard core base, but to the 80 percent of the American people that wanted a deal that wasn't just cuts, they look beyond out of touch. Like most people, I just don't understand how anyone can justify putting themselves in the column that would prefer default, a loss of our triple A credit rating and an all but assured double dip recession, over voting for a deal that gave them most of what they wanted.
Next in line for worst off would be the GOP leadership. John Boehner clearly has very little actual control over his own caucus in the House, and Mitch McConnell looks as absurd as ever, blissfully comfortable in his position as the head of the 'Party of No' in the Senate. Similarly, the Republican brand has been further tainted for all but the most partisan of Conservatives. Staying united over a position (a debt deal with only cuts) that a mere 1/5th of the public supported in polls has illustrated, yet again, how out of touch they have become with the American people.
The only potential silver lining in all of this, for the right, is that the Democrats got mud in their face as well. The Democratic base is up in arms over their leadership's utter inability to fight back against the united front of the far right, and a large portion of the Democrats in the House ended up not voting for the deal in the end. Nancy Pelosi looked marginalized, seeming to take a back seat in the negotiations to several Republicans that ranked below her counterpart in the House.
This whole mess reinforced the perception that President Obama is weak, feeding right into the hands of his opponents at a time when he was squarely in the column of those who were pushing for a balanced deal that largely mirrored the will of the American people. It would appear that this is one of the few things that most segments of the political spectrum agrees upon, although for very different reasons. This lead from the rear strategy he uses with most things just isn't what the country wants to see from him.
That being said, the Democrats do have an opportunity here. The Republicans lost a lot more face than the Democrats did. Harry Reid and President Obama could use this opportunity, where disgust of the Republican party is as high as I've ever seen it, and work to make inroads with the center of the electorate. If Obama and Reid take a similar stance, a true compromise stance that mirrors public opinion, on other issues coming down the line, they could really make the GOP suffer in the next election.
The only people who came out of this looking better than they started were a small group of organizations that consistently pushed for the sort of grand compromise deal the president backed late in the process. They didn't get the result they wanted, but they were clearly the adults in the room. Similarly, polling shows that the discontent among the American people has reached a level not seen since the early days of the Reform Party, sparking interest in third party type groups. Americans Elect is the biggest of these, and while not a party, they are a deep pocketed, focused and well organized political machine that looks like it will succeed in it's effort to get a bipartisan presidential ticket on the ballot in all 50 states, and could morph into a political party later on.
Folks like the members of the Gang of Six could be said to have gained some face from this as well, but it's hard to say since they ultimately were ignored. This is sad, as they've been fighting for the ideas behind the failed grand compromise for months.
Before trying to summarize this into list form, I have to say that - more important than which political figures and forces lost the most, or might gain - the obvious fact is that who really lost out the most is the American people. We got hosed. The deal is better than default, but barely scratches the surface of long term debt and doesn't stimulate the economy like closing loopholes and using some of the revenue to trim taxes on lower and middle income earners would have. The only silver lining for us is how even more people now realize just how bad Washington has gotten.
Right Wing / Tea Party Extremists - 20 who voted against the deal in the Senate, and 66 in the House - they will, without a doubt, do worse in next year's election than they would have otherwise
John Boehner - He clearly has very little control over the House GOP caucus. I don't think it's far-fetched to think that a Tea Party type will mount a serious effort to replace him as the Republican leader in the House, at some point.
Mitch McConnell - If there is any major player in Washington who embodies the idea of "Party of No" better than Mitch McConnell, I'm not aware of them.
The Republican brand in general in the 2012 election, including whoever runs against Obama
The 7 Democrats in the Senate, and 95 in the House, most of them left wingers, who also voted against the deal
Nancy Pelosi - At times it seemed like she wasn't even considered important enough to be a part of the conversation. Why she is still at the head of the Democratic Caucus is beyond me.
The non-losers (it's hard to call them winners, so we'll say they lost less and now have an opportunity)
President Obama - If he plays this right, he could put himself in a similar place that John Boehner was in following the Democrats pushing too far to the left on issues like the health care reforms in late 2010. But it will take him being more aggressive than he usually is. Will he learn from his mistakes, and use the bully pulpit more?
Harry Reid - Backed Obama's play, seemed to listen to the American people on debt ceiling related issues, but clearly lost the war of messaging, partisan positioning and posturing. If he plays the next several months right, he could use this to his advantage.
The only winners:
The Grown Ups in the Room - A short list of mostly centrist and moderate groups, like No Labels and the think tank Third Way, were voices of moderation among the din of hyper-partisan vitriol. They got a torrent of positive press during this whole ordeal.
Third Party types - Discontent amongst the American electorate hasn't been this high since the early days of the Reform Party - Americans Elect chose the perfect time to start talking to the media. This sort of thing plays right into the hands of groups like this, that are starting to pop up all around the country.
Solomon Kleinsmith is a nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates.