Obstructionism is its own reward

Over at 538, Nathaniel Rakich points out that Biden’s approval rating is continuing to decline, despite the fact that Afghanistan coverage has declined. 

It’s hard to know what is going on here, but my guess is that two factors outside Afghanistan are important.  First, the pandemic is dragging on, and people tend to blame the President and his party for not fixing problems.  This reflects what Brendan Nyhan called the Green Lantern theory of the presidency – the belief that the President can accomplish anything if he just tries hard enough.  This general tendency to blame the President may be exacerbated in the case of covid because Biden promised more than he delivered.

Second, I suspect that some people are simply reacting to the interminable political bickering they see on Capitol Hill.  Many people just hate political squabbling, partly because they dislike conflict, and partly because they believe that there are easy solutions to public policy questions.  They wish that we had a political class that could put its differences aside and do the people’s business.  When Congress is divided, and bickers instead of legislating, they assume that someone is corrupt or incompetent, and it gets them angry.  (The evidence for this is laid out here.) 

Biden may be particularly vulnerable when politics descends into disagreement and stalemate because he promised he could bring people together and get things done in a bipartisan manner.

The upshot of all this is that obstructionism is a useful strategy for Republicans when they are in the minority.  It leads to acrimony and frustration, and blame gets laid at the feet of Democrats since they are nominally in charge. 

I suspect that this is the main point of McConnell’s debt limit obstructionism.  He knows he can’t trigger a debt default (at least, I really, really hope he does), and he probably can’t extract much in the way of concessions from the Democrats, but he can weaken Biden and the Democrats simply by adding to the perception that Congress is divided and things are out of control.  If McConnell and the Republicans end up folding again in December or January without getting much in the way of policy concessions, don’t assume they lost.