Way back in the days when bloggers carved their missives out on stone tablets (by which I mean 2005), Digby noted, in response to the nascent trend of conservatives deciding that George W. Bush wasn't a conservative after all, wrote, "Get used to hearing about how the Republicans failed because they weren't true conservatives. Conservatism can never fail. It can only be failed by weak-minded souls who refuse to properly follow its tenets." We've seen that a lot in the years since—the interpretation of every election Republicans lose is that they weren't conservative enough, and if they had just nominated a true believer or run farther to right, victory would have been theirs.
There's already a tactical division within the Republican Party about the wisdom of shutting down the government in an attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act. The members who have been around a while understand that no matter what happens, Barack Obama is not going to bend on this one. He won't dismantle his greatest domestic policy accomplishment, and he won't delay it for a year. He just won't. The members who are newer, particularly Tea Partiers who got elected in 2010 and 2012, think that if they just hold fast, eventually Obama will buckle.
And there's another difference between the two groups. That first group of older members were around for the shutdowns during the Clinton years, and remember how badly things turned out for them. Here's an excerpt from an NPR story aired this morning:
"It was a calculated gamble on the part of the speaker, Newt Gingrich," says Steve Bell, who was a Republican congressional aide. The new Republican majority in Congress decided to push their spending fight with President Clinton to the limit, even if it meant shutting down the government.
"And at first, about half of us thought it was a bad idea and half of us thought it was a good idea," says Bell. "But in the perfect example of groupthink, we talked ourselves into believing that, oh, the president will get blamed and we will be able to get our way."
Bell, who's now with the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, says the Gingrich gamble didn't pay off, except for President Clinton.
"The president wasn't blamed," says Bell. And "the amount of money we saved over that government shutdown literally is almost a rounding error. So we went through all of this for almost no savings, net-net, and we successfully re-elected someone that we thought we were supposed to defeat."
All the reporting I've seen says that is the perspective shared by John Boehner and others in the GOP leadership. The problem is that Tea Partiers in the House don't see it that way. They believe the shutdown will be blamed on President Obama, and the only possible way for Republicans to lose is if they give in too soon.
That's because the idea that conservatism can never fail, it can only be failed, extends beyond ideology to its tactical extension, eternal and maximal opposition to Barack Obama and everything he wants to do. Fighting Obama is a strategy that can never fail. If failure happens, it can only be because we didn't fight him hard enough.
Once this is all over, they'll be telling everyone the same old story. If only the party had been stronger, if only Boehner had stood firm, if only we had kept the government closed for another week or another month, everyone would have seen we were right, Obama would have been crippled for the remainder of his term, we would have won a smashing victory in the 2014 mid-term elections, and the blow that led to Obamacare's inevitable death would have been struck. But we were betrayed by Boehner and the other cowards and quislings.
I wouldn't even be surprised if come 2015, where you stood on the shutdown becomes a key litmus test Tea Party activists apply to GOP presidential contenders.