The consultants have to by trade reconcile themselves with what agenda can win elections nationwide. That realpolitik has brought them to a place they could have hardly imagined one year ago when Barack Obama was inaugurated.

Until this week, as Devine put it, “the White House felt they would sustain the political damage in the short term because [health care reform] would be such a remarkable achievement in the long term.”

But now many Democrats believe the scale has changed. The health plan’s near-term political cost outweighs the party’s long-term policy goals. To Devine and others: less is now possible, too many other causes are being pushed aside and the party’s future is now also at stake…

“They’ve spent a year working on health care. People who have jobs, if they spent a year working on a project and didn’t finish, most of them would be fired,” said Steve Rosenthal, a leading Democratic field organizer and former political director of the AFL-CIO.