WASHINGTON — Public opinion polls show that Republicans have been damaged in the aftermath of the partial shutdown of the U.S. government. Conservative Tea Party supporters in Congress backed the shutdown in a failed hope to undermine President Barack Obama’s controversial health care reform law. It appears to be a widening split within the Republican Party that could hinder compromise with Democrats on a range of budget issues.
Vice President Joe Biden greeted federal workers in Washington, back on the job after a 16-day partial government shutdown.
Conservative Republicans, like Texas Senator Ted Cruz, pushed for the shutdown to undermine the president’s health care reform law.
Cruz was warmly received at a recent conference of social conservatives in Washington. “In my view the House of Representatives needs to keep doing what it’s been doing, which is standing strong!” he said.
Cruz will have plenty of conservative competition if he runs for president in 2016, including fellow Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who appeared before the same group.
“Hold your politicians accountable for standing up and protecting life and standing up against the war on Christianity. Thank you and may God bless you,” said Paul.
Paul and Cruz both voted against the agreement that ended the government shutdown.
But former Republican congressman Vin Weber said his party has been hurt by the shutdown. "The brand is badly damaged, and it is not likely that it is going to be repaired until we have a Republican presidential candidate who will then have the opportunity to change it,” he said.
Mainstream Republicans appear to be tiring of the aggressive conservative tactics.
Kentucky Representative Harold Rogers said, “It’s time to restore some sanity to this place. To do this, we all have to give a little.”
Obama also is urging Republicans to be more cooperative. “You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president, then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election. Push to change it. But don’t break it,” he said.
Republican analyst Scot Faulkner said the party is more divided than ever. “Absolutely, because each side has gotten more shrill and, more importantly, both sides are starting to completely demonize the motives of the other faction even within the party.”
More clashes are likely between mainstream Republicans and Tea Party supporters in the months ahead, said ex-lawmaker Weber.
“But that would leave them bitterly angry at the party for a long period of time and exacerbate exactly the split we are talking about. But it may be inevitable that that is the only way we get out of this,” said Weber.
Analyst Scot Faulkner said Republicans also need to work on their image with American voters.
“Republicans have a huge problem to overcome. They are viewed as crazies. They are viewed as people who no longer want to work within the system, and people who literally want to take down the system,” he said.
The next political test - the congressional midterm election - is little more than a year away.