Here’s a key reason why Republicans have proven willing to drag us to the brink of debt ceiling armageddon. A new Pew poll finds that a majority of Republicans voters, and an even larger majority of Tea Party supporters, simply don’t think failing to raise the debt ceiling will lead to a crisis:

By a 53% to 30% margin, most Republicans say that it will not be a major problem if the debt ceiling is not raised by Aug. 2. The balance of opinion is the reverse among Democrats: 56% say it is absolutely essential to meet that deadline to avoid an economic crisis, 28% say it is not. Independents are more divided, though a slim 43% plurality say the country can go past Aug. 2 without major economic problems, while 32% say it is essential to raise the debt limit by this date...
Tea Party Republicans are by far the most unconvinced about the potential fallout from going past the Aug. 2 deadline. Fully 65% of Republicans and Republican leaning independents who agree with the Tea Party see no major problems if this occurs, compared with 45% of Republicans and Republican leaners who do not agree with the Tea Party.

Less than a third of Republicans think it’s essential to raise the debt ceiling to avoid disaster. Only 20 percent of Tea Party sympathizers — or one fifth, according to my handy Plum Line calculator — think this. Large swaths of the Republican base simply don’t think it will be a major problem if the deadline passes and the United States defaults on its obligations. Put another way, large swaths of the GOP base have been deluded into thinking no crisis of any kind is imminent. The GOP base has become Bachmann Nation.

GOP leaders, of course, know better than this. For instance, a few months ago, John Boehner was warning that failure to raise the debt ceiling could mean “the end of our economy.”Over time such crisis talk slowly receded, and GOP leaders actually began claiming that the debt ceiling is Obama’s problem — that it’s only the President who is making raising the debt limit necessary by asking for it.

Did such cavalier talk from the GOP leadership about the debt ceiling encourage a situation in which huge chunks of the GOP remain ignorant about the consequences of failing to raise it? I don’t know — much of the blame for this should be pinned on Michele Bachmann and others who continue to feed the fantasy that the debt ceiling doesn’t matter. But either way, GOP leaders, paradoxically, have been put in a terrible political spot by their own base’s ignorance on the issue. While they are fully aware of the consequences of default, it is now close to impossible for them to reach a deal to avoid it without facing major political consequences. And the real-world consequences for the rest of us could be dire indeed.