I don’t believe there’s anything the Republican party could do that could hurt them that much in the short term. If Ted Cruz got a hold of his own nuke and launched it at San Francisco, the Fox/Limbaugh crowd would applaud, the GOP establishment would tsk-tsk ineffectually, Charles Lane would write it was no worse than the time Paul McCartney made fun of W for being a dunce, and the polls would only move against Republicans by a few points at most.
So, in terms of the 2014 election, the government shutdown is indeed a big nothing:
The former is definitely true. Republicans clearly took more blame for the shutdowns 17 years ago. Today, though, the “margin of blame” is 16pt smaller – with Americans surveyed only 3pt more likely to blame congressional Republicans than the president (the margin was 19pt in 1995-96). That suggests that Republicans are much in better shape now than they were then.
But even if the polling today did look like 1995-96, I would argue that this looming shutdown will offer nowhere such a clear win for Obama and the Democrats as it did for Clinton. The 1996 elections didn’t differ at all from what you’d expect – given the state of the economy and the outcomes of congressional elections in presidential years when there is split government.[….]
Indeed, only 10% of Americans said the government shutdown was their greatest reservation about Republicans, following the 1996 vote, per a post-election poll. The exit polls didn’t even ask about it.
A shutdown will harden anti-Republican attitudes among younger and better-informed voters, and that’s a bad thing for the GOP long term. But it won’t mean shit for 2014.