Have we finally reached a point where the perpetual anger of Washington conservatives is no longer a threat to the republic? The budget deal announced yesterday suggests that it may well be, at least for the moment. It isn't that conservatives aren't raising a stink about it—they're displeased that it doesn't repeal the Affordable Care Act, slash Social Security and Medicare, and do more to punish food-stamp recipients, among other things—because they certainly are. Indeed, they were decrying it even before it was announced, which tells you how concerned they are about the details. But they seem to be just going through the motions. Send the press releases, say you'll vote against it, tell Fox News why it doesn't get to the real problems ... and then we'll all move on. The budget will pass, mostly because it averts the possibility of a government shutdown (at least over the budget, though not over the debt ceiling) for two more years. And even the most conservative Republican knows that's a good thing for their party.
Just look at how John Boehner is acting. Boehner, who spent the entire period of the shutdown (and the weeks leading up to it) stepping gingerly around his party's right wing as though it were a Bengal tiger that could rip his throat out with a single swipe if angered, now feels free to attack the likes of Heritage Action, obviously without concern that they can make him pay for his insolence:
At a press conference Wednesday, a visibly angry Boehner said conservative groups who oppose the two-year budget deal struck by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) are "using our members and they're using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous." Moments earlier, during a closed-door meeting, Boehner told House Republicans that the well-funded and influential organizations "aren't acting out of principle, and they're not trying to enact conservative policies. They're using you to raise money and expand their own organization," he said, according to a source in the room.
Those are some pretty strong words. Meanwhile, primary challenges to Republicans who have sinned against purity aren't exactly looking formidable at the moment. Steve Stockman, who could well be the single nuttiest Republican in the House (and that's saying something), is mounting a challenge to already extremely conservative Texas senator John Cornyn, one that will produce some moments of comedy but is almost certainly doomed. There are other primary challenges in progress to high-profile Republicans like Lindsey Graham, but most of those will probably fail as well.
That doesn't mean that the Tea Party is irrelevant, or that events couldn't conspire to renew their power and influence over the Republican party. For the moment, however, it does appear that the shutdown provided everyone in the GOP a valuable lesson: there's only so far you can follow your extremists before they lead you off the cliff, and once you've plunged to the bottom, you don't much want to climb back up and hurl yourself off again.