Will voters punish Republicans in the 2014 midterms for shutting down the government for two weeks? That's what analysts on both left and right are predicting and lamenting.
The U.S. government shutdown has made the House of Representatives "increasingly vulnerable to a Democratic takeover." So argued Ryan Grim, D.C. bureau chief for Huffington Post, after poring over survey results from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling.
Grim thought polling results were understating things because "The more vulnerable a House seat looks...the easier it is to find a viable challenger." And the shutdown made House members look very vulnerable indeed.
FOX News's Bill O'Reilly seconded that judgment.
"Hard-right Americans," O'Reilly warned his substantial conservative cable audience, "should understand that Democrats will win next year's midterm elections and the presidency of 2016 if the Republican Party does not begin to solve problems."
According to a broad sample of polls, the American people never favored the government shutdown. Yet there is one big problem with confidently predicting that disagreement will spell doom for the GOP.
Those same American people tell pollsters they don't like the reason for the shutdown, either. And that reason could loom a lot larger as the next election approaches.
"We fought the good fight, we just didn't win," explained House Speaker John Boehner. That is the lesson GOP leadership hopes all voters take away from the most recent impasse over Obamacare, because they think that fight will loom even larger in the next election.
House Republicans understood all along that a shutdown would be risky and unpopular. They did it anyway.
Congressional Republicans did things before and during the shutdown to blunt the damage. Those things included passing legislation to ensure the military would get paid and approving back pay for furloughed nonessential workers once the government reopened.
Republicans pushed legislation to have cancer treatment trials for children classified under the essential functions of government and thus funded, to the annoyance of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The GOP made great hay of the National Parks Service's dumb call to barricade national memorials.
Their gamble was not that voters wouldn't be annoyed, but that they wouldn't be outraged. Republicans figured the disruption of a short shutdown of nonessential government functions would be minimal.
They might be right about that. The mail was delivered on time. Old folks still got their Social Security checks. Government workers had to wait to get paid, but not long.
As soon as the federal debt ceiling threatened to carve into those things, it was raised and the government was reopened. Will voters hold this disruption against Republicans a year from now?
If voters have something larger on their minds, probably not. That's what Republicans have banked on. The shutdown was about demonstrating they had done every reasonable thing in their power to stop Obamacare. That makes the success or failure of Obamacare in the next year all-important. The initial snapshot does not look good for the president's signature legislation.
There are a lot of Obamacare ifs here but all are plausible. If the insurance exchanges fail to seriously improve from their abysmal opening performance, if U.S. companies continue to get out of the insurance business for their employees, if the 30-hour workweek becomes part of America's structural underemployment, if people get sticker shocked by a mix of higher deductibles and higher premiums, if this has a broad and dire effect on the country's economy...
Assume even half of this GOP-predicted calamity comes to pass. In that scenario, it's hard to imagine voters next November caring about a little government shutdown.
Jeremy Lott is editor of Real Clear Books, Policy and Religion, and author of four books, including The Warm Bucket Brigade: The Story of the American Vice Presidency.