February 6

At a presser just now, John Boehner confirmed that Republicans had made no decision on how to move forward on the debt limit.

The latest is that Republicans have given up on extorting conservative priorities for a debt limit hike — they can’t agree on anything that would get 218 votes — and instead are looking at a plan to attach a restoration of recent cuts to military benefits, seemingly to entice House Dems to help get it passed. Today’s declaration that nothing has been decided suggests Republicans are still not ready to embrace a clean debt limit hike.

But it does seem very clear right now that the extreme right — after the total failure of the last debt ceiling skirmish — is losing its ability to force such hostage crises.

Even some Tea Partyers are losing their desire to go through this again, as Kevin Drum points out:

Everyone in the Republican caucus with a room-temperature IQ knows that provoking yet another debt ceiling crisis would be a debacle. It didn’t work before, and it won’t work now. What’s worse, it takes attention away from Obamacare and reinforces the public view of Republicans as irresponsible grandstanders who are willing to risk the good credit of the United States for no reason except to kowtow to a bunch of know-nothing tea partiers.

But it turns out that those know-nothings aren’t willing to accept reality yet. They’ve rejected the latest plan — which already demanded more than they were ever likely to get — and now the GOP leadership is stuck. The yahoos won’t let them back down further regardless of how much damage it might do. As a result, it looks an awful lot like Republicans are going to incite yet another debt ceiling crisis a few weeks from now, whether they want to or not.

Republicans not even trying very hard. Why?

One answer can be found in this Daniel Horowitz post on Red State, party organ of the Tea Party vanguard. The national debt its, like, really big, he says. Therefore we must cut something! Of course, he does not actually propose any detailed cuts whatsoever, he just asserts that something must be cut, and the debt ceiling is the best place “to force a long-term balanced budget.” But after 1000 words or so of budget derp, he basically gives up on winning on the debt ceiling, and concludes thusly:

Well, after telegraphing that message to the Democrats for so long, there is not much we can do.  At this point, all we can do is defeat these undocumented Democrats in primaries and elect a new cadre of conservative fighters in the primaries – fighters who will telegraph a very different message to our opponents.

Consider the awesome extremism of such a sentiment. In the midst of austerity unprecedented since the WWII demobilization, Republicans tried to use the threat of government default to extract even more spending cuts. But faced with an unyielding opposition and a ferocious backlash, they eventually released the hostage, looking like irresponsible and unpatriotic fools for even trying it. That failure is not evidence of unwise tactics or poor policy, it’s evidence of RINOism and possible covert Democratic infiltration. Is that a joke? Shootfire, I hope so.

But the weakness of this kind of purges-and-more-purges stance is ever more apparent. It’s obvious to even some of the more ransom-minded Republicans that there is such a thing as bad political strategy, and it seems clear Boehner will be fairly secure if and when Republicans cave and agree to a clean debt limit increase. He seems to be doing nothing more than going through the motions. Indeed, this might be the last time Republicans try to jack up the nation over the debt ceiling. Fingers crossed.