Interesting, if not surprising, although I’m not sure who the target audience is. The “defund ObamaCare” initiative is well into litmus-test territory by now, thanks to the number of tea-party heavy hitters in favor and the number of dreaded RINOs opposed. This new data will be dismissed as an establishment GOP effort to scare Rand Paul and Ted Cruz into backing down, even though they have zero incentive to do so. If they can’t get 41 Republican votes in the Senate, they’ll shrug it off and say they were on the side of the angels. Whatever the outcome, when it’s all over, they’ll be more popular on the right than they were before.

The real audience here isn’t really Paul and Cruz, of course, but Senate Republicans who plan to vote no and need some rhetorical ammo in defending their vote.

In a national survey of 1,000 registered voters done July 31 and August 1, the question, from pollster David Winston, said, “Some members of Congress have proposed shutting down the government as a way to defund the president’s health care law” and asked respondents whether they favored or opposed that plan.

Overall, 71 percent of those surveyed opposed a shutdown, while 23 percent favored a shutdown. Among Republicans, 53 percent opposed, versus 37 percent who favored…

Among Republicans who called themselves conservative, those who said they are very conservative favored shutdown by 63 percent to 27 percent, while those who said they are somewhat conservative opposed shutdown by 62 percent to 31 percent. Overall, Republicans who call themselves conservative were evenly split on the issue, 46 percent to 46 percent…

Winston also did a generic ballot test. Among people who say at this point that they plan to vote for the Republican candidate in 2014 — regardless of who it is — 51 percent said they opposed a shutdown, while 40 percent favored it. “What has to be concerning here is the fact that more than half the people who are presently voting for a Republican oppose this idea,” Winston told me. “If you’re concerned about what it might look like in terms of a general election, if half the voters who say they are going to vote for a Republican candidate oppose this, then you are creating a conflict for them to vote for a Republican candidate.”

Mirror image results between the “very conservative” and “somewhat conservative,” just as you’d expect from a litmus test. But wait — hasn’t Rand Paul said specifically that he doesn’t want a shutdown? Indeed he has — which is proof enough that even tea partiers are worried about the political fallout if it happened. The question is, is there an endgame here realistically where Obama blinks and agrees to defund before it comes to a shutdown (or at least shortly after one begins)? Realistically, no, says David Freddoso:

If you think you can get the Democratic Senate to pass (and Obama to sign) a bill that funds the government while defunding Obama’s absolute top priority without first going through a prolonged government shutdown — and we’re talking weeks or months here, not days — then you’re just not being serious. This has no chance of success unless you shut the government down for a very long time.

The guy already lost the House so that he could get Obamacare — do you really think he’s going to cry uncle one week into a few embassy closures? Obama cries uncle only when tens of thousands of government employees start having their homes foreclosed because they’re not being paid…

The defund-or-shutdown effort — and that’s what it is — represents a threat, something along the lines of: “Do what I say, or I’ll shoot myself in the leg.” I’m all for making threats, using leverage, and risking elections to get good governance, but this is not an effective tactic, because it’s in the other person’s interest to let you shoot yourself. Obama would welcome a shutdown — why should he come to the table to stop Republicans from wounding themselves for nothing?

You’ve got three possible outcomes. One: O caves relatively quickly and agrees to defund. That’s not going to happen, not only as a matter of pride in his signature legislation but as a matter of necessity. He needs the health-insurance exchanges to begin on time. Public dependency on federal subsidies is key to the law’s long-term prognosis. Agreeing to delay the whole project gives Republicans their only real chance of killing the law before it’s implemented. He’d rather have the lights go off than do that. Two: The GOP comes around to Cruz’s and Paul’s position, leaving O and Republicans deadlocked. The government shuts down and the public waits to see who’ll blink first. The media lights up with White House talking points about Republicans risking damage to the economy in order to deny health-care coverage to the middle class, yadda yadda — you know how it goes. Obama, being a lame-duck whose eye is on his legacy, has little incentive to blink. Aspiring GOP presidential candidates do. Eventually some face-saving compromise is reached to end the shutdown, possibly a delay of some O-Care provisions that aren’t related to the exchanges, but the law is funded and, if you believe the Winston poll, Republicans are probably damaged. Three: The “defund ObamaCare” effort fails to draw 41 Republican votes for a filibuster. Cruz and Paul cite it as ultimate proof of RINOism run rampant in Washington. Paul, for one, likely also mentions that certain Republican governors with their eye on 2016 actually enabled ObamaCare by accepting the law’s Medicaid expansion while he and tea partiers were busy trying to kill the damned thing. In the next round of presidential polls, he and Cruz both see their numbers rise.

In short, scenario one is a nonstarter, scenario two hurts the party while failing to accomplish its objective, and scenario three works out pretty well for everyone. Which do you think is likeliest?

Via Guy Benson, here’s the new online ad from Heritage backing the Cruz/Paul effort.