It was the week in which the US government shut down for the first time in 17 years – and the subterranean fault-lines of the American Right burst into the open

While Republican elders in Washington fear a repeat of the 1995-96 shutdown, when the party led by Newt Gingrich took the blame and revived Bill Clinton’s ailing political fortunes, the Tea Party is rejoicing that finally battle has been joined…

“They’re doing to Republicans among independent voters what Republicans had done to them for many years, with the word ‘liberal’,” a Republican senate aide told *The Sunday Telegraph*, “Democrats are inverting the brand so that you can label someone a ‘Tea Party Republican’ and that’s an insulting epithet.”…

“If Ted Cruz comes out of this looking like he won something in any way,” he added, “then it just raises the stakes for next time.”

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The overarching problem for the man at the center of the budget fight, say allies and opponents, is that he and his leadership team have no real idea how to resolve the fiscal showdown.

They are only trying to survive another day, Republican strategists say, hoping to maintain unity as long as possible so that when the Republican position collapses, they can capitulate on two issues at once — financing the government and raising the debt ceiling — and head off any internal party backlash. Republican lawmakers say Mr. Boehner has assured them privately that he will not permit a default…

If the speaker were to move on a stopgap spending bill now, without conservative policy priorities attached, it would most likely pass with Republican and Democratic votes. But the ensuing Republican uproar — on and off Capitol Hill — would ensure that there would be no Republican votes to raise the debt ceiling. “It’s common-sense strategy,” one Republican strategist said. “If you’re going to take a bullet, you want to take just one.”

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They may sometimes be silent and fearful of stirring conservative ire, but more than 100 members of the House GOP are much more centrist than you’d imagine. These are the members from purple and light-red districts, who rarely go on television and, unlike their more unruly colleagues, stick with the leadership. They are critical to sustaining Boehner’s power, and, should the GOP find a way to extend the debt limit and once again fund the government, they’ll deserve credit.

Two dozen of these Republicans — including Reps. Charlie Dent (Pa.) and Peter King (N.Y.) — have pressed Boehner to quickly end the shutdown and assure them that the government wouldn’t default. They’re rattled by the House GOP’s rightward drift, and they’re tired of Cruz and his House compatriots embracing a standoff that has no end in sight. Dent is working with House Democrats to pass legislation that would reopen the government and repeal the medical-device tax, a plan with bipartisan support. King, perhaps the most prominent in the centrist caucus, tells me he expects most Republicans to eventually come his way.

Ultimately, a large group of rank-and-file Republicans wants the mess to end. They may not have the moxie to outmaneuver House conservatives, but they certainly have the numbers.

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1. The “No” Caucus: 10 Republicans. This includes all those who voted against Boehner for speaker and against Hurricane Sandy relief, the Violence Against Women Act, the farm bill in June, and the January fiscal deal (if they were in the 112th Congress).

2. The “Difficult” Caucus: 26 Republicans. These are Republicans not in the first group who (a) have been members of the House’s Tea Party Caucus, (b) voted against the leadership on at least three of the four bills mentioned above, and (c) either cosponsored the Rep. Graves bill or cosigned the Rep. Meadows letter urging that the Affordable Care Act be defunded. These, I think, are pretty strong indications of a conservative, Tea Party-esque streak.

3. The “Fearful” Caucus: 48 Republicans. These are Republicans not in the first two groups who have been either “primaried” by the Club for Growth or risk being so challenged (i.e. their Club for Growth 2012 vote score is under 70% and Romney won their district by over 50%).

4. The “Loyalist” Caucus: 29 Republicans. These are Republicans not in the previous groups who voted with the leadership on all (or all but one) of the four bills mentioned above.

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[O]n Wednesday at a private luncheon, several Senate Republicans — Dan Coats of Indiana, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire — assailed Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who has led the movement to block funding for the health law.

Ms. Ayotte was especially furious, according to two people present, and waved a printout from a conservative group friendly to Mr. Cruz attacking 25 of his fellow Republican senators for supporting a procedural vote that the group counted as support of the health law.

Ms. Ayotte asked Mr. Cruz to disavow the group’s effort and demanded he explain his strategy. When he did not, several other senators — including Mr. Johnson, Mr. Coats and even Mitch McConnell, the minority leader — joined in the criticism of Mr. Cruz.

“It just started a lynch mob,” said a senator who was present.

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Moderates like Susan Collins of Maine, conservatives like Rob Portman of Ohio and deal-makers like John McCain of Arizona have quietly begun to reach out to top Senate Democratic leaders to see if they can help break the political logjam. There’s no indication the informal talks will lead to a resolution, particularly since the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refuse to negotiate before House Republicans agree to raise the debt ceiling and reopen the government with no policy strings attached…

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who joined Senate Republicans in earlier fiscal talks with the White House, said he’s ready for the impasse to end.

“This is not a position I want us to be in,” Johnson said. “I don’t want this brinksmanship — I think the government does enough harm to our economy; we don’t need to put on a whole new layer.”

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I am fine with the occasional primary challenge to congressional Republicans–people need to be kept honest, after all — but threatening primary challenges simply because some Republican somewhere decides to be practical about things every once in a while does not constitute the upholding of principles. Rather, it constitutes a sort of political cannibalism that makes the GOP look utterly and completely unreasonable to the American people, backs them into exceedingly uncomfortable corners, and lays waste to the Republican negotiating position in any talks with Democrats. From time to time, Republicans need to have sufficient ideological elbow room to strike deals. They cannot run the government on their own. But try telling that to activists who see pragmatism as heresy.

And what has all of that activism wrought? Has it brought unity amongst congressional Republicans? Has it brought any kind of desirable espirt de corps? Have congressional Republicans settled on a coherent battle plan that they’re now prepared to implement? Hardly. They are at each other’s throats, don’t know how to get themselves out of trouble, and are providing endless amounts of entertainment and mirth for congressional Democrats. The GOP has become one big, giant clown show.

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In fact, this minority faction — the “suicide caucus,” as the conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer has called it — may be less shortsighted and self-defeating than it appears. At a time when so many officials in both parties still invoke the virtues of compromise and perpetuate the ideal of common ground on which “conservative pragmatists” can meet “moderate Democrats,” these more combative Republicans may be in the vanguard of a new post-consensus politics

[A]s America becomes more diverse, another population has come more clearly into view: the alienated and disenchanted. These people have embraced a libertarian and anti-government outlook and have little use for what they see as the compromised, impure “big government” conservatism of the Reagan and Bush years.

To this constituency, the Republican who will go as far as he can — taking one last crack at undoing Mr. Obama’s health care reform or voting later this month not to raise the debt ceiling — is not an obstructionist but a politician of principle, a rebel with a cause…

“‘It does not take a majority to prevail,’” Mr. Paul said at the conference’s climactic event, quoting Samuel Adams, “‘but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brush fires of freedom in the minds of men.’”

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Palin, who started her political career on the local level as an outsider before eventually challenging the GOP establishment in Alaska to become governor, said that the “GOP high roller machine can’t win elections with their cash anymore.”…

“So I say call these guys out and expose the fact that they no longer control any conservative movement because they’re not the voice of the people. See, some of these Wall Street guys basically want to use the GOP for three things: They want low taxes for themselves; they want lots of cheap foreign labor (aka blanket amnesty); and they want to be safe (though most won’t send their own kids to fight our wars, they don’t want anyone blowing up buildings in Manhattan; so they’re all for sending our sons and daughters to whatever foreign hell hole beckons to make sure the bad guys stay off our soil)…

“Ask yourself if most of them really care about America’s industrial base or can even relate to the American worker and our values. The particular fat cats who are so often used as anonymous sources to trash the grassroots see this latest Tea Party effort to keep essential government open as just a distraction. They’re throwing a bit of a fit because this is a whole new, needed ballgame where their money can’t buy elections anymore.”

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Ironically, in picking the speaker as his new pressure point, Obama seems to be relying on the idea that Boehner wants to negotiate, as goes what’s become accepted as conventional wisdom in Washington: Boehner does not want the shutdown, he knows the position he’s taken to defund Obamacare is hopeless and he’s looking for a way to strike a deal that would get out of this situation, so long as it doesn’t cost him his job…

Going after Boehner is “the only path available to them,” said Matt Bennett, a vice president at Third Way who worked in the Clinton White House during the last shutdown. “Obviously it’s the House that is the problem. He is the speaker of the House. But he is also someone who everyone in Washington understands to be a reasonable guy. … The presumption is that he wants to do the right thing.”

Eventually, Obama will need to find a deal that Boehner can accept without inviting a coup, which, given any of the possible scenarios to replace him, would likely be even more of a problem for the White House than the speaker himself.

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Landrieu and Pryor never buckled. They voted with the rest of the party to amend or table every House bill. So did Alaska Sen. Mark Begich and North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan. So did West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate who’s not on the ballot again until 2018 but who’s on the record willing to delay the health insurance mandate. “This is about funding the government,” Manchin told me after one of his votes this week. “This isn’t about social issues.”

Why do they stick with Majority Leader Harry Reid—why, when three of them could cast “safe” no votes and Reid could still beat the House bills? Democratic aides say that the red-staters are “scared straight” by the House GOP. They’re not getting the calls from home to defund Obamacare. Their home-state papers aren’t dogging them, either. They’re in no fear of losing an “optics” battle to John Boehner and company…

“Dealing with terrorists has taught us some things,” said Washington Rep. Jim McDermott after voting no on one of Thursday’s GOP bills. “You can’t deal with ’em. This mess was created by the Republicans for one purpose, and they lost. People in my district are calling in for Obamacare—affordable health care—in large numbers. These guys have lost, and they can’t figure out how to admit it.” Why would House Democrats give away what the Supreme Court and the 2012 electorate didn’t? “You can’t say, OK, you get half of Obamacare—this isn’t a Solomonic decision,” McDermott said. “So we sit here until they figure out they fuckin’ lost.”

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“[N]ormally, I don’t comment at all on closed-door meetings between Republican senators,” Lee said. “It’s a pretty strict rule we follow. But one exception I’ll make is circumstances like this, where contents of the meeting were leaked deliberately by several of my colleagues and leaked in a very one-sided way. I’m happy to tell you about it here.”

“It was an all-out attack against Ted Cruz and me,” he continued. “It was unflattering. It was unfair. It was demeaning. It was demeaning to Sen. Cruz and me, but more than anything, it was demeaning to those who engaged in the attack.”