The problem with the deficit as an issue is that people care more about economic growth, and the problem with spending cuts is that people like them more in the abstract than in reality.

At times, “we have a $16 trillion debt” seems the sum total of the party’s argumentation. When party leaders say that they have to become the party of growth again, the policy they invariably advance to that end . . . is reducing the $16 trillion debt.

This necessary, but hardly sufficient, message is almost all we hear from Republicans in Congress, where their majority in the House gives them responsibility without decisive influence. The House Republicans mainly have blocking power. Woe to the republic if they didn’t. But if you block things, you’re easily labeled an obstructionist, and wouldn’t you know it, people don’t like obstructionists.

Their only hope to deflect the nation from its profligate budgetary path is confrontations coinciding with key fiscal inflection points, like the March 1 deadline for the sequester. They always ride into these fights badly outgunned.