Few operatives in either party believe Republicans have wounded themselves to that degree so far: The 113th Congress is only being sworn in Thursday and the next election is nearly two years away.

Yet with months of sparring ahead over the debt ceiling, the deep and unpopular spending cuts in sequestration and the grim overall fiscal state of the nation, there’s ample peril ahead for GOP lawmakers who threw the House into chaos throughout the month of December…

“House Democrats are as addicted to phony optimism as they are to spending. They have been proclaiming that they are on the cusp of retaking the House from the moment they lost it,” said Republican strategist Brad Todd, who advises the National Republican Congressional Committee. “If Democrats want to make the 2014 election a referendum on whether we should have a fiscal chaperone for the president and whether he should borrow and spend too much money, we’re happy to have that referendum.”…

GOP strategists privately acknowledge it would be a problem if the party somehow allowed itself to become synonymous with Washington dysfunction. But that would require mismanaging future fiscal confrontations — starting with the upcoming debt ceiling fight — at least as dramatically as they flubbed the cliff deal.