The US government has experienced three major shutdowns over the past 25 years. In 1995, it was a fight over social welfare programs like Medicare. In 2013, it was over an effort to defund Obamacare. In 2018, it was over funding for a border wall on the US-Mexico border.
And while each crisis revolved around a different policy fight, they all followed a similar pattern: Republicans, egged on by right-wing pundits and talk radio, were pressured into forcing a government shutdown that would eventually blow up in their faces.
Since the ’90s, Republicans have been dependent on right-wing media to rally and mobilize their supporters. That’s garnered them success in major elections, but it’s also backed them into a corner; Republicans know they can’t betray the conservative pundits who helped elect them, but those pundits are becoming more and more ideologically extreme, pressuring Republicans to shut down the government over even minor funding disputes.
The major players in right-wing media have changed since this pattern began. In 1995, it was popular talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh. Now it’s the talking heads at Fox News. But the core problem remains the same: Conservative pundits have no incentive to call for compromise or moderation. As long as Republicans in Congress are beholden to them, they’ll continue to get steered into shutdown battles they can’t really win.
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