House insiders say a handful of House Republicans cursed Cruz in the cloakroom on Wednesday, and a leadership source says angry e-mails were exchanged among GOP staffers who consider Cruz to be a charlatan. “Cruz keeps raising conservatives’ hopes, and then, when we give him what he wants, he doesn’t have a plan to follow through,” an aide fumes. “He’s an amateur.” Another aide says, “Nancy Pelosi is more well-liked around here.”

Cruz, however, tells me House Republicans are wrong to be infuriated. In an interview, he says his goal was never to whip together votes in the Senate for a defunding bill; it was always to inspire a grassroots uprising that would rattle Congress and President Obama, and hopefully defund Obamacare.

“I’m convinced there is a new paradigm in politics — the rise of the grassroots,” Cruz says. He cites Senator Rand Paul’s filibuster on drone policy, and the debates on Syria and gun control, as recent examples of how an “overwhelming” number of phone calls and e-mails from constituents can force the president to buckle.

“And on Obamacare, I’ve said, from the start, that if typical Washington rules apply, we can’t win this fight,” he explains.

***

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who has been a thorn in Boehner’s side, said that the group of members who opposed Boehner’s original plan to avoid a shutdown were becoming increasingly effective.

“This is what we said we were going to do and this will be the first time in two years and nine months that we are going to vote on defunding on a must-pass legislation,” he said. “[Leadership] didn’t want to vote on this, and that was pretty clear they didn’t want to fight on it. We want to see them stand on some principles and give us assurance they’ll fight. They couldn’t even get the rule approved.”…

“This is just math. We have 233 House Republican members. The majority in the House is currently 217,” said the aide, noting that it is usually 218 votes but there are two vacancies. “That means a small group of members can gum up the works on any vote. There are fewer and fewer tools available to leadership. Earmarks are gone — which is a good thing, but it has consequences. Taking away committee assignments hasn’t made members any likelier to vote ‘yes’ — and, frankly, no one has a plausible suggestion for what would do the trick. The world simply changed. It’s made the House more open, more transparent, and more difficult to manage.”

***

A shutdown now would have much worse fallout than the one in 1995. Back then, seven of the government’s 13 appropriations bills had been signed into law, including the two that funded the military. So most of the government was untouched by the shutdown. Many of the unfunded agencies kept operating at a reduced level for the shutdown’s three weeks by using funds from past fiscal years.

But this time, no appropriations bills have been signed into law, so no discretionary spending is in place for any part of the federal government. Washington won’t be able to pay military families or any other federal employee. While conscientious FBI and Border Patrol agents, prison guards, air-traffic controllers and other federal employees may keep showing up for work, they won’t get paychecks, just IOUs…

But won’t voters be swayed by the arguments for defunding? The GPS poll tested the key arguments put forward by advocates of defunding and Mr. Obama’s response. Independents went with Mr. Obama’s counterpunch 57% to 35%. Voters in Senate battleground states sided with him 59% to 33%. In lean-Republican congressional districts and in swing congressional districts, Mr. Obama won by 56% to 39% and 58% to 33%, respectively. On the other hand, independents support by 51% to 42% delaying ObamaCare’s mandate that individuals buy coverage or pay a fine.

***

“It’s a great day for America,” Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA), the author and principal sponsor of the legislative vehicle by which Republicans aim to take down Obamacare, added. “It truly is. We’re on the eve of a historic moment here in Washington, D.C., as we take this vote in the House tomorrow. We’re sending a very strong message to the American people that we as Republicans in the House and the Senate are united in a way that I haven’t seen in a long, long time. We’re united in the common goal of protecting the American people from the harmful effects of Obamacare. In turn, the question turns to the Senate and directly to Harry Reid. What will Harry Reid do? Will he continue to protect his friends, the president’s friends, big business and members of Congress, those on K Street, or will he also extend protections to the American people? That’s really what it comes down to: A simple question for Harry Reid and what will Harry do, is the question America will be asking over the next couple of days.”…

“The Democrats want full implementation of Obamacare, and we want full repeal of Obamacare,” Labrador said. “And we’re seeing all we’re asking for is a one-year delay. That is a minimum ground that we’re asking Harry Reid to take. He’s calling us all sorts of names like ‘anarchist,’ or ‘terrorist’ and all these names. And we’re the ones who are actually taking a reasonable position with regards to this law and it’s Harry Reid and the president who are willing to shut down the government if they don’t get everything they want with a law they believe is going to be harmful to the American people.”

***

In 2012, Obama won another term and Reid maintained an iron grip on the Senate. That is a reality that cannot be ignored as strategies are developed to prevent Obamacare from taking firm or permanent root…

Now is not the time for conservatives to turn a squabble over tactics into a circular firing squad. Now is the time to unite and fight to inform, persuade and win the argument, convincing the American people that Obamacare must be stopped…

Republicans should build on the support that House Democrats recently showed in calling for the delay of Obamacare. We should try to remove the most damaging parts and make sure that all Americans — including members of Congress and their staffs — are treated equally under the law. We should then make certain that Obamacare is the preeminent issue in the 2014 congressional elections.

***

In a radio interview with Andrea Tantaros earlier [Wednesday], for example, Cruz aimed most of his barbs at the GOP, despite House Republicans’ decision only hours earlier to embrace his plan on the CR.

“Right now, I can tell you, the people who are fighting the hardest against our efforts to defund Obamacare are not Democrats, it’s Republicans. It’s Republicans who have been leading the onslaught, trying to stop this. Because they’re afraid of the political risk. They’re afraid of being blamed politically,” he said…

But he also sketched out what can be a politically potent argument to put to Democrats: “We gotta say, ‘no, we don’t want to shut the government down. We have voted to continue the government running. President Obama has granted waivers from Obamacare to big corporations and to members of Congress. Why is President Obama threatening to shut the government down to deny those some waivers to hard-working American familiies?’ Their position is indefensible.”

***

“It’s amazing to me you have leaders, none of whom — all of them know [shutdown is] a bad idea, bad for Republicans, they don’t want to risk it,” Todd asserted.

“Nobody seems to want it and yet I don’t know how they avoid it, at least for a couple of days,” he continued. “That’s what I keep envisioning, some sort of 48 hour shutdown or 24 where there’s some small version of this.”

“I’ve had House Republican aides say this to me before in previous fights, sometimes they have to educate some of these members, how it will play out, how they would believe it, they don’t have to see it for themselves,” Todd revealed.

***

“I believe the Affordable Care Act is anything but affordable, and will have a negative impact on the economy of my state,” he said, adding that he would have preferred for it to have been blocked by the Supreme Court. “But I don’t extend that to the point that we should shut down the government over it.”

“I support limited government,” [Scott Walker] added. “But I want the government left to work.”

There is a straightforward solution to address the current predicament, Walker suggested: put the question before the voters next year.

“The way to resolve this is through candidates making the case in the 2014 election,” he said. “They can make a case they’re going to come on in and put the power back in the hands of the people, not in the government.”

***

What a shame all this melodrama is a mirage, a farce, a game…

For some the answer has to do with pent up fury in need of an outlet, and the effort to defund the ACA is that outlet. It also appeals to those who find it satisfying to turn every debate into an apocalyptic clash. And even if Republicans fail, at least they “fought the good fight.” (Ronald Reagan referred to people of this mindset as those who enjoyed “going off the cliff with all flags flying.”)

But there’s also a tendency among some on the right—not all, certainly, but some—to go in search of heretics. They seek to purify the conservative movement—to eliminate from it the defilement, the debasement, and the corruption they see all around them—and they bring to this task an almost religious zeal. They are the Keepers of the Tablets. And they are in a near constant state of agitation. Living in an imperfect world while demanding perfection (or your version of perfection) from others can be hard.

This is not conservatism either in terms of disposition or governing philosophy. It is, rather, the product of intemperate minds and fairly radical (and thoroughly unconservative) tendencies. Such things have always been with us; and some of the uncontained passions and anger will eventually burn out. The question is how much damage will be done in the process.

***

Katrina Pierson is a good example. The Dallas-based tea-party activist, who volunteered for Cruz’s Senate campaign, announced last week that she’s challenging Representative Pete Sessions in his primary, and tells me that Cruz inspired her move.

“You see someone like Ted Cruz gets elected, and we’re all skeptical, right?” she says. “We’re all skeptical about what happens when people to go Washington, D.C. And when we see him standing up for what’s right against the establishment, against the party, and it can be done — it’s like, well, okay then!”

“He’s still holding his campaign promises,” she continues, “and the simple fact that he did it lets the rest of us know that not only can we do it, but we need to give him some backup, bottom line.”

Pierson says Cruz’s campaign functioned as a sort of boot camp for grassroots activists, who built a support network that’s only grown since the campaign ended. And Cruz’s involvement in the effort to defund the Affordable Care Act has spurred more Texans to volunteer, according to Pierson.

***

Meanwhile, as Obama lays the groundwork for the coming campaign, Republicans are fighting among themselves over an impossible quest to defund Obamacare. After that is resolved, they will fight among themselves over the circumstances of increasing the nation’s debt limit. And then they’ll fight among themselves over something else.

Every day the GOP is consumed with its internal squabbles is a day Republicans don’t concentrate on the issues most important to voters. So now, amidst the feuding, some in the GOP are asking: What case will we make for ourselves in 2014? In the strategist’s words, “What has a Republican Congress accomplished?”…

The point is not to dump on Obama. The point is to show what Republicans have done with power. “He’s not going to be up for re-election again,” says the strategist. “We better start proving to people that if we’re given responsibility, we can do something with it. This isn’t about him any more. It’s about who we are.”

***

Where this goes from here is not clear. The Senate will not accept the House bill, so it will send a “clean” funding bill back to the House stripped of the Obamacare poison. In the most optimistic GOP view, the “hello no” caucus will learn that this was a bootless effort and they will sign on to whatever Boehner cooks up to keep the government doors open. Is this group of conservatives really going to change their mind? What will cause them to do so? The constituents back home who have been cheering their fight to defund Obamacare? The increased condescension that the New York Times editorialists use when describing them? A stock market plunge?

If the loss doesn’t get Boehner the votes he needs, he will then have no other choice but to turn to Democrats for votes to avoid a shutdown. That won’t be pretty, because Democrats will exact a price against the backdrop of the ticking clock. (If you are counting at home, there are only 12 days until the government technically runs out of money).

A government funding mechanism that passes with Democratic votes will excite some sharp comments from the very group that Boehner is having trouble satisfying. And this is just the scrimmage before the big game. Republicans will need to be unified before the debt limit fight in mid-to-late October. If the government shutdown is bad for the economy, the debt ceiling fight is catastrophic.

***

“I think Sen. Cruz is free to do whatever he wants within the rules of the Senate,” McCain said on CNN. “I will again state unequivocally that this is not something that we can succeed.”…

“In the U.S. Senate, we will not defund ObamaCare,” McCain said. “And to think we can is not rational.”

***

***