Would a softer political target like low-income groups or a balanced budget amendment (a perfect example of a policy that has support a mile wide and an inch deep) have paid Republicans more dividends? The haziness of wishful thinking, compounded by a deeper failure to appreciate that the shutdown itself validates the obstructionist label and the impression of being too inflexible to govern, threatens the party nationally and is even starting to creep into red states like Georgia and Louisiana.
There is a different kind of miscalculation driving the (take your pick — more responsible? more establishment? more centrist?) wing of the party (which, as the one silver lining of this fortnight, seems finally emboldened). It is the assumption that mobilizing to downsize the Tea Party is an endgame by itself. The 144 Republican no notes that emerged in the House may be minimized as “throwaways” who were trying to forestall primary contests and could do so with the knowledge that their votes were not essential. But that misses the reality that such a sizable portion of the party’s elected representatives — well more than the 40 to 50 members of the Tea Party Caucus — felt so constrained politically. That’s evidence that the sensibilities behind the shutdown have much greater currency in the party than Republicans are comfortable acknowledging.