Via Dave Weigel, who makes a fair point: How many of the RINOs who were yelling at Cruz at caucus lunches objected to his filibuster on strategic grounds, not because they wanted gun control to pass? That was the WSJ’s big objection, that Republicans had to make sure to force vulnerable red-state Democrats like Pryor and Landrieu to vote on this thing. If they voted no, as Pryor did, then they’ve angered liberals; if they voted yes, as Landrieu did, they’ve angered conservative gun-rights supporters. Threatening a filibuster was a risk in that it could have created an opening for Reid to declare that GOP opposition made passage hopeless and to pull the bill from the floor before Pryor et al. had to take that tough vote. In fact, a quick glance at the timeline shows that Reid was crying about not having even 40 votes for an assault-weapons ban on March 19 — a week before the filibuster threat. No strong-form gun-control legislation was ever going to pass. Surely the Susan Collinses and Kelly Ayottes in the Senate didn’t need Paul or Cruz to formally remind them that tea partiers would look unkindly at their supporting a new AWB.

Harder to say what would have happened to the Toomey/Manchin background-checks bill without Paul’s and Cruz’s early opposition, though. That was always going to be the closest vote; 60 yeses wasn’t completely out of the question initially. AWR Hawkins noted last week that the initial three-man Paul/Cruz/Lee filibuster quickly became a 12-man filibuster, which in turn put pressure on the rest of the caucus to hang tough. Even so, though, four Republicans (Collins, Kirk, McCain, and of course Toomey) ended up voting yes, and if all 55 Democrats had voted in unison, I suspect Ayotte would have flipped to become the 60th vote. It’s really the red-state Dem defections that killed the dream for Obama and Reid, and those defections were probably inevitable given electoral realities in those red states. But who knows? Without Paul and Cruz drawing the line, maybe Ayotte would have felt bolder to switch, and Dean Heller too, and then maybe even Murkowski would have decided she could get away with a vote for background checks.

Speaking of which, if PPP is to be believed, purple-state Republicans like Heller and Portman are paying a price in the polls at the moment for their Toomey/Manchin votes. Emphasis on “at the moment.”