It's probably true that Republicans won't be able to force Planned Parenthood to shut down its human organ harvesting business. Not this year. Maybe not any year. And it's probably true that Republicans won't be able to stop the flow of over $500 million to the abortion conglomerate — at least not until the GOP builds a veto/filibuster-proof majority and wins the presidency. So, not soon. Maybe never. And it's undoubtedly true that flailing, pointing at shiny objects and creating unrealistic expectations are counterproductive in the long run.
But here are some other things that are true.
No American — save a lobbyist, perhaps — is inspired to support a political party because its leaders did a bang-up job passing a bipartisan highway bill. Put it this way: If the GOP is unwilling or unable to make a compelling argument for cutting off taxpayer funding to an organization that performs vivisections on human beings, it's going to be increasingly difficult for the party to make the case that this iteration of the GOP needs to exist at all.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who argues that Republicans must wait to win the presidency before taking on the abortion fight, assures his constituents that Republicans won't be the ones to risk a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding. And by pre-emptively conceding this, he's conceded that the GOP is culpable for any shutdowns and that those shutdowns are events that should be avoided at all costs.
Neither of those things is true.
Can Democrats stop anything by shouting "shutdown"? Can they unilaterally define what new spending limits look like? If not, why is a shutdown fight over spending more worthwhile than a shutdown fight over Planned Parenthood? Republicans, after all, don't have the votes to pass any item on their agenda (whatever that agenda theoretically entails).
Here's something McConnell might have said instead: I'm not sure what's going to happen yet. But if Democrats want to shut down government to preserve funding for doctors who think it's hilarious to jump-start a dead baby's heart after he's been extracted from his mother, I'll let them explain that to the American people.
For many conservatives, this fight is easier to grasp and more morally consequential than sequestration or the debt ceiling. It's one that would be more difficult for Democrats, as well.
Leadership says Republicans can't win. But the idea that you have to extract substantive policy every time you engage in a political bout is absurd. Change happens incrementally. The Center for Medical Progress videos of Planned Parenthood officials are not so well-known to the general public as they are to grass-roots conservatives — mostly because, as Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, pointed out yesterday, of media complicity. Even a potential shutdown fight would force — as much as such things can be forced — the media to explain what precipitated this deadlock in the first place.
More than that, the left has rarely been forced to support specific abortion policy or debate the moral dimensions of the procedure. Most often, pro-choice politicians are allowed to offer some crisp platitude or pretend that Planned Parenthood is the only institution in America that can deliver contraception or women's health services. Otherwise, they've struggled. It's uncomfortable to defend abortion. Judging from most of their answers, it's uncomfortable to even say the word abortion.
So it's unclear why Beltway wisdom says abortion is a loser for the GOP. No poll that I know of finds the majority of Americans in support of third-trimester abortions, and I can't imagine one exists that will find support for the callous indifference to life that we see on those PP videos. Yet right now, most Democrats support abortion to the moment of crowning, and no one asks them to clarify this position. Having to unambiguously defend Planned Parenthood's actions would be about the most awkward position red-state Democrats took in their entire careers.
Soon after the 2013 shutdown ended, The Washington Post ran a piece outlining how devastating the entire shutdown had been, saying it was an event that had triggered "major damage" to the GOP and broad dissatisfaction with government in general. In truth, one of those two things generally favors conservatives, who don't care much about the state functions threatened by a shutdown. Buried in the story, we learned that the Democrats' unfavorable rating had also spiked. Among conservatives, 8 in 10 were dissatisfied with the GOP. But was that anger driven by the "hard-line" tactics, or was it the perception that the GOP had botched the effort or been too ineffective?
Fast-forward to a little more than a year later. Republicans took the Senate majority in a commanding sweep — winning nearly every contested race in the country — took governorships, expanded their hold on state houses and added to an already significant majority in the House. I'm not suggesting that a shutdown helped Republicans win. But what evidence is there that a single voter changed his ideological position or stayed home because of the partial shutdown of the federal government — which, despite the best efforts of the hand-wringing press and president, didn't sink the economy or affect most Americans in any real way?
And now, just when the cravenness of the abortion movement is most graphically on display, Republicans ask their constituents to wait around for President Bobby Jindal to take care of the problem. I've long argued that John Boehner's House hasn't gotten enough credit for playing an important role in blocking harmful policies over the past four years. It's also true that the base's expectations of a minority party are often out of whack with reality. And a shutdown for spectacle's sake alone would be destructive. But a pre-emptive surrender is no better.
David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist and the author of "The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy." Follow him on Twitter @davidharsanyi. To find out more about David Harsanyi and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.