If you want to understand why conservatives continue to push us towards a destructive government shutdown confrontation to force the defunding of Obamacare, pay attention to this new quote from Texas Senator Ted Cruz — it might be the most illuminating thing he has ever said about this whole crusade.

“You’re here because now is the single best time we have to defund Obamacare,” Mr. Cruz said to raucous applause at a cavernous ballroom at the Hilton Anatole hotel. “This is a fight we can win.” […]
Mr. Cruz said Tuesday night that he would call on House members to approve “every penny of the federal government, everything in its entirety, except Obamacare.”
“What has to happen after that is we’ve got to do something that conservatives haven’t done in a long time,” he said. “We’ve got to stand up and win the argument.”

Cruz’s suggestion that conservatives can still win the defund fight is getting attention, but the really important quote here is Cruz’s concession that conservatives have not won “the argument” in a long time. Here’s why: Cruz almost certainly knows full well that this is the last chance to win the broader argument over Obamacare. Once the law’s benefits kick in, it will probably no longer be winnable.

Obamacare opponents cite polls showing Obamacare’s unpopularity to justify continued efforts to repeal and/or sabotage the law, whether through a government shutdown or through more prosaic methods. But, as even some Republicans are now acknowledging, the Republican position on health care is untenable as long as they fail to offer a meaningful alternative that would accomplish Obamacare’s core goals — expanding coverage to many millions of uninsured and protecting consumers and those with preexisting conditions from insurance industry abuse.

This is the argument conservatives are losing: As unpopular as Obamacare is, there is simply no evidence that this dissatisfaction translates into public support for repealing the law entirely and simply letting the “magic of the marketplace” ensure that everyone is covered. And a number of writers — Jonathan Bernstein, Aaron Carrol, Ezra Klein, Jonathan Cohn, and Paul Krugman — have already explained well why Republicans can’t offer an alternative to Obamacare that accomplishes what the law accomplishes, and why there’s simply no meaningful Republican alternative to embracing Obamacare’s general approach or essentially doing nothing.

For several years now, Republicans have been able to paper over this problem by making the political argument only a referendum on the lurid, nightmarish vision of Obamacare they have painted (with some success) for voters. But as even Cruz seems to recognize, the actual contours of the argument we’re having will only become clearer as Obamacare’s concrete benefits kick in — very likely rendering that argument unwinnable. That leaves Republicans in the position of hoping the law is a disaster and doing all they can to bring that about. But that posture only further underscores what makes the GOP position untenable in the first place. Cruz is absolutely right: time is running out.

* TOP CONSERVATIVE DENOUNCES DEFUND-OBAMACARE CRUSADE: Add Senator Pat Toomey to the list of Republicans who understand that this is pure insanity:

“I’m totally in favor of the goal, but this vehicle isn’t going to achieve it,” Toomey said after meeting with the Inquirer Editorial Board. “That’s not a tactic that’s going to get us the outcome we want.”

But again, this is no longer an argument over what will work and what won’t. It’s now a litmus test about who is willing to support the most destructive tactics in pursuit of a shared goal — if you aren’t prepared to inflict maximum destruction, your opposition to Obamacare no longer counts.

* HOW MANY MODERATE REPUBLICANS SUPPORT DEFUNDING OBAMACARE? The House Majority PAC, which elects Dems to Congress, flags two examples — a TV interview and a radio hit — in which GOP Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois comes out for defunding Obamacare. It’s unclear whether Davis supports a government shutdown to force defunding. But the interviews are notable, since Dems see Davis as one of the must vulnerable Republicans of the cycle. How many GOP “moderates” support defunding?

* CONSERVATIVES TURN UP HEAT ON OBAMACARE: Heritage Action for America, a leader of the defunding push, is set to demand that 100 House Republicans pledge to join the crusade or face the consequences. This again raises the possibility that House Republicans may not be able to pass anything that funds the government, even temporarily at current levels, if it doesn’t also somehow block Obamacare.

* WOULD SUPPORTING IMMIGRATION REFORM REALLY HURT REPUBLICANS? The Hill raises a very interesting point: Senator Lindsey Graham is a leading supporter of immigration reform, but the primary threats against him are now looking like they may amount to a big fizzle, which could help lead other Republicans to consider embracing reform despite the noise from the right.

The notion that Republicans can’t possibly embrace reform because of the wave of conservative rage that will surely hit them is shaping this whole debate, but continues to go mostly unexamined.

* WHERE’S THE CONSERVATIVE BACKLASH ON IMMIGRATION? Politico reports on what some of us have been saying for awhile now:

Anti-immigration groups aren’t drawing large, loud crowds to their rallies….And the tea party groups famous for turning out supporters and firing up town halls ahead of the 2010 midterm elections are much more focused on Obamacare than immigration…So far, the megaphone over how to overhaul the country’s immigration laws this month has been pretty much one-sided, with pro-reformers organizing hundreds of rallies, putting operatives on the ground and making sure lawmakers are hearing from local leaders who support the effort.

Right. The question is, will the lack of a massive conservative backlash persuade GOP leaders that it’s okay to let reform go forward for the good of the party, or are they determined to let it die because they see no particular reason to act?

* ANOTHER GOP CONSULTANT WARNS GOP: Republican consultant Mike Murphy says his party is heading for trouble:

“The party is acting as if the entire world is a GOP primary,” said Mike Murphy, a prominent Republican campaign consultant. “That is a very dangerous way to operate. We have massive image problems with the greater electorate, and the silly antics of the purist wing are making our dire problems even worse.”

Given the structural realities underlying out politics, the question, really, is whether there is any point at which the GOP’s image problems with the constituencies it must win over will actually will begin to matter.

* AND THE BATTLE OVER FED HEATS UP: Zachary Goldfarb has an interesting look at the behind the scenes battle between allies of Larry Summers and Janet Yellen for Fed chair, with insiders claiming Summers has the edge. If anything, the roster of insiders (such as Tim Geithner) pulling for Summers will only further inflame outside criticism of the possibility that Summers is the frontrunner (if he indeed is).

What else?