By Gene Lyons
Chances are that when the GOP inevitably capitulates, the vote to end the government shutdown will be surprisingly one-sided.
And what with 72 percent of voters in a Quinnipiac University poll saying they disapprove of the shutdown, the retreat almost can't happen soon enough to save the Republican Party from the charlatanism of Sen. Ted Cruz and screwball allies like Rep. Michele Bachmann.
Writing in the Washington Examiner, the well-connected conservative columnist Byron York estimates that as many as 175 of the 233 House Republicans are prepared to support a "clean" budget resolution stripped of references to the Affordable Care Act.
Embarrassing? Definitely. Beaten by Sen. Harry Reid and President Obama, two weaklings they'd seen as sure to back down. An object lesson in believing your own bull ..., well, your own propaganda.
However, there's also safety in numbers. The fewer die-hards holed up in the Tea Party's self-constructed Alamo, the hollower their accusations of cowardice and treason will sound to sane GOP voters come the 2014 primary elections.
For what it's worth -- the story is characteristically unsourced -- Politico reports that "Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has privately warned House Republicans that they could lose their majority in 2014 as a result of shutting down the government."
Well, no kidding. Parsing the Speaker's evolving public statements, York suggests that he may be leaning toward allowing a vote on a clean resolution sooner rather than later -- something Boehner could have done weeks ago if the gentleman had a spine.
Exactly how the third most powerful figure in the U.S. government found himself backed into this humiliating position is a matter of conjecture. With people throwing around Neville Chamberlain analogies of late (the British Prime Minister who bargained away Czechoslovakia to Hitler for an illusory peace in 1938), Speaker Boehner definitely qualifies for a dishonorable mention.
Because, you see, contrary to the hoary conventions of Washington journalism, this made-for-TV crisis has never really been a sign of "partisan gridlock" or any such thing. Even my own gibe about Republicans losing to Harry Reid and Barack Obama above is somewhat misleading.
The real fight hardly involves Democrats, one reason Reid's had little trouble keeping the Senate majority in line.
"As a matter of politics," James Fallows writes in The Atlantic, "this is different from anything we learned about in classrooms or expected until the past few years. We're used to thinking that the most important disagreements are between the major parties, not within one party; and that disagreements over policies, goals, tactics can be addressed by negotiation or compromise.
"This time, the fight that matters is within the Republican Party, and that fight is over whether compromise itself is legitimate."
By attempting to use budgetary extortion to annul a law passed by both houses of Congress, found constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, and reinforced by a presidential election, an inflamed minority inside the Republican Party is attempting something like a constitutional coup d'etat.
Fallows: "There is no post-Civil War precedent for what the House GOP is doing now. It is radical, and dangerous for the economy and our process of government, and its departure from past political disagreements can't be buffed away or ignored."
Indeed, an increasing number of conscientious Republicans have grown alarmed. Former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson: "We are no longer seeing a revolt against the Republican leadership, or even against the Republican 'establishment'; this revolt is against anyone who accepts the constraints of political reality. Conservatives are excommunicated not for holding the wrong convictions but for rational calculations in service of those convictions."
The odds that Speaker Boehner fails to comprehend the radical nature of the Tea Party extortion threat, its non-existent chances of prevailing, and the damage it's doing to the GOP are vanishingly small. This is very far from his first rodeo. The suntanned golfer is an eleven-term congressman who's been involved in party leadership fights almost since arriving in Washington.
Even so, he's caught in a trap of his own devising. Unwilling to allow any bill to reach the House floor that needs Democratic votes to pass -- such as the current budget resolution -- he's found himself checkmated by 30 to 50 Tea Party zealots he needs to get anything done. To cross them would risk losing the speakership. And that would never do.
Like many, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius sees Boehner as a total failure: "Unable to control his own caucus, negotiate effectively with the president or pass legislation, he flounders in office -- a likable man who is utterly ineffective."
More optimistically, York depicts the speaker employing a deliberate rope-a-dope strategy: "After another defeat or two, and under the pressure of a shutdown, Boehner will finally turn to the 30 and say, 'We tried it your way, over and over. Now, the majority will pass a resolution.'"
Peace in our time.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000). You can email Lyonsat email@example.com.