In a column yesterday, I argued that the Republicans' reckless irresponsibility over the debt ceiling should have hurt them more than it seems to have done, and this reflects badly on the Democrats. Jonathan Chait thinks the article is a strong "Worst-Column-Ever" candidate. Only a really intelligent commentator would think of bestowing such an accolade, so Chait deserves to be taken seriously.
He starts with psychological rather than textual analysis -- speculation about what I really think yet feel compelled to disguise. He says I'm a moderate Democrat with a fixation on seeming nonpartisan. Actually, I just agree with Democrats about some things and with Republicans about others -- a fairly straightforward worldview, if you ask me, but one that Chait finds entirely bewildering. We could wonder about the reasons, but let's not bother.
Turning to content, Chait chiefly attacks the premise of my argument -- that Republicans haven't suffered as much from the debt-ceiling debacle as one might have expected. This is an "utterly false belief," he says. Not just false -- utterly false.
It's true that Republicans have gotten the blame for the shutdown, and rightly so. The column says their ratings have fallen (and not by "just a smidge," which is Chait's gloss on what I wrote). It also says that the Tea Party's debt-ceiling strategists and their supporters in Congress have shown themselves unfit for public office. In other words, one might have expected (and hoped for) a rout. That's not what we saw.
Chait doesn't question the poll numbers I include in the column, which suggest the Republicans haven't suffered huge damage, but he supplies links to reports of other polls, implying that these say the opposite. It's true that polls show the party's favorability ratings sinking to all-time lows -- but they were very low to start with. And there's been no surge of support for President Barack Obama or the Democrats. Isn't that odd? One of the articles Chait links to in claiming my premise is "utterly false" says:
Despite deep frustration with national conditions, the public’s views of Washington political leaders have shown only modest changes since before the government shutdown began. Approval ratings for President Obama (43% approve), Democratic congressional leaders (31%) and GOP leaders (20%) all are at or near all-time lows, yet are not substantially more negative than they were in early September, a month before the shutdown started....
An early read of voter preferences for the 2014 midterm shows that the Democrats have a six-point edge: 49% of registered voters say they would vote for or lean toward voting for the Democratic candidate in their district, while 43% support or lean toward the Republican candidate.
In November 2009, a year before the Republicans won a House majority, Democrats held a five-point edge (47% to 42%)....
The Democratic Party continues to be viewed more favorably than the Republican Party: 47% of adults have a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party while 38% view the GOP favorably. As in the past, the public by wide margins views the GOP as more extreme in its positions than the Democratic Party (55% to 34%) and less willing to work with its political opponents (32% say the Republican Party, 50% the Democrats).
However, as many say the Republican Party (42%) as the Democratic Party (39%) can better manage the federal government. And by 44% to 37%, slightly more say the GOP is better able to handle the nation’s economy.
Measured against the outrageous recklessness of the debt-ceiling maneuvers, this looks to me like getting off lightly. And the question isn't just "Why aren't Americans angrier with the Republicans?" Yes, they're pretty angry -- but not so angry that they're rushing to support the Democrats.
I think that's a puzzle that calls for some reflection. The column offers some. Chait's view appears to be that there's no puzzle: The backlash has been ferocious and the rational not-entirely-clueless part of the electorate (maybe 60 percent of voters) has finally seen Republicans for what they are. So is the party therefore finished? We'll find out.
(Clive Crook is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter @clive_crook.)