This is actually the name for a foreign policy that Nixon tried to use to bring the Viet Nam war to an end.
In his case, the setup was that Nixon was obsessed about communism and also under great pressure to end the war. As a result, the threat was that he might simply lose patience and nuke North Vietnam back to the Stone Age if the North Vietnamese didn’t come to the negotiating table.
The same strategy is in play right now in the showdown over defunding Obamacare.
Republicans have admitted that this is a political strategy.
Even though they failed to gain the White House or a majority in the Senate in the last election, the fact that they did retain a majority in the House (they feel) entitles them to use whatever means are available to them to advance the agenda of the people who elected them.
That’s where the Madman enters the room. Republicans are willing to shut down the government in order to get some portion of their agenda passed by the Democratic Senate majority and signed by the Democrat in the White House.
“People have to recognize there’s never any compromise until the stakes are high,” said Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California. “In our society, that’s the nature of democratic government.”
The compromise in this case is that the Republicans agree to allow the government to continue to operate in return for significant legislative concessions by the Democrats.
AND they don’t seem to care whether or not it harms the economy.
“Economists, what have they been doing? They make all sorts of predictions,” said Representative John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana. “Many times they’re wrong, so I don’t think we should run government based on economists’ predictions.”
Nixon faced this same problem in Viet Nam. If your opponent is afraid of dying, and they believe that you are crazy, they will likely negotiate. If your opponent doesn’t care about dying, or at least is willing to call your bluff, you are forced to do something crazy or lose future bargaining power. That crazy act, in Nixon’s case, was invading Cambodia. The Republican crazy act is damaging the US economy in order to bring about legislative change that they couldn’t achieve through the ballot box.
The problem with this Republican strategy is that they are INDEED crazy, but not for the reasons that you might think.
They are crazy because they allowed the Democrats to BAIT them into picking a fight over the continuing operation of the government rather than the government default.
Government default is the BIG DEAL. It is one that Obama might have been willing to give up a year of Obamacare to prevent.
The Democrats, however, don’t care if the Republicans shut down the government. In fact, they prefer it to the other alternatives on the table.
The reason is that the country will survive a government shutdown, but the Republicans won’t.
By the time the REAL battle comes up, which is the debt ceiling, the country will have dealt with several weeks of the government being shut down, will be convinced the Republicans are indeed Madmen, and will demand an end to the lunacy. That end will be passing the CR to get the government running again AND passing a resolution to raise the debt ceiling. The voting public will NOT be willing to listen to Republicans talking about debt, or future generations, or irresponsible Democrats. They will have lost their patience with Republican tactics and it will all be over but the shouting. That’s because the voting public will vote in sufficient numbers in 2014 to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
So in essence, the Republican Madman Strategy was to put a gun to their own head and threaten to pull the trigger. Democrats jumped up and yelled, “Stop. Please don’t do that. Give the gun to me.” Once they were sure the gun was loaded, they handed it back to the Republicans and said, “I believe this is yours.” Last night the Republicans pulled the trigger.