Norm Ornstein has a great point:
Ultimately, the root of the problem may lie in the stark lessons that the Republicans elected to Congress in 2010 seem to have drawn from an earlier cohort of conservative Congressmen—those that Newt Gingrich lead into the majority in 1994. Today’s Tea Partiers recognize that they share a similar governing philosophy with their forebears, but they believe almost uniformly that the Gingrichites sold out too quickly, blinking unnecessarily when the political heat got turned up. The conclusion many have drawn is that Gingrich made a huge mistake when he gave in after the disastrous government shutdown at the end of 1995—if Republicans had held out, lashed themselves to the collective mast and weathered the storm of public disapproval, Clinton would have caved and they would have succeeded at rolling back the welfare state.
As Ornstein points out, there’s no evidence that conservatives are correct about all of that, but I think he’s right that a lot of conservatives have believed it nonetheless. Not that conservatives are alone in this: There are plenty of liberals out there who believe that Barack Obama’s failure to achieve all his goals has simply been because of a lack of willpower.
I’d add two points. The first is the conservative closed-information loop: It’s very likely that Tea Partyers in Congress really don’t realize how unpopular many conservative ideas are with swing voters because the news sources they’ve listened to for years never happen to mention it. The other key factor was the 2010 elections, and in particular the primary challenges to incumbents such as Lisa Murkowski and Bob Bennett. Normally, the reality check on fantasies about the popularity of fringe partisan ideas comes when politicians start thinking of Election Day. However, when the Election Day that looms largest in the imaginations of those politicians is the primary, then they’re pushed toward those fringe positions, not away from them.
Of course, that only tells us how false ideas propagate, not what they are. And I think Ornstein is right: The conservative myth of how the 1995-1996 shutdowns were resolved is a significant influence on this generation of House Republicans.