The new NBC/WSJ poll contains bad news for Dems. But the poll is even worse news for the whole country, because it may make Republicans more likely to think they have the leverage they need to use this fall’s confrontations to somehow undermine Obamacare.

The key findings are that 44 percent of Americans say they oppose a debt ceiling increase, versus only 22 percent who favor one. In a reversal, Republicans are now more favored on the economy by by four points, and on the deficit by 13 points.

Of course, public opinion always tilts against the debt limit — that didn’t stop Republicans from caving on it earlier this year — and as the NBC write-up notes, Obama has the bully-pulpit, which ultimately flipped opinion on it last time. But for conservatives looking for ways to rally the shock troops for the coming confrontation, this poll could boost their case that the GOP must hold firm in its demand to block or delay Obamacare, probably in the debt ceiling fight, where GOP leaders say they will make their stand against the law. Some are already pointing to it as proof of leverage.

But the poll also finds that an astonishingly low 23 percent favor the GOP as the party that is looking out for the middle class. As the GOP pollster who helped conduct the poll put it: “The Republican Party is not on the playing field in terms of who’s being considered as representing the values of the middle class. That is fundamental positioning problem.” Indeed, it’s a terrible place to be, heading into a war in which Republicans will be armed with little more than an austerity message as justification for unleashing more economic havoc.

At bottom, though, the real problem here is that conservatives and Republicans may think they have the upper hand in this fight, even as they also seem incapable of understanding that for Democrats, Obamacare is non-negotiable, period, full stop. Dems just are not going to delay or undermine the law. Yet many conservatives continue to insist that the GOP must proceed from the premise that Dems can be broken on this point — if only enough chaos is unleashed to force their hand.

This is delusional. And as Jonathan Cohn notes in a must read, that’s only an outgrowth of a much deeper set of delusions about Obamacare that have taken hold over years:

If you sincerely believe Obamacare will bankrupt the country, violate personal liberty, raise costs or ruin insurance for most Americans, and generally destroy American health care, then it’s easy to believe that it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the country demands repeal — forcing both Senate Democrats and the president to go along. It’s particularly easy to believe this if you live in the right-wing media bubble, where all of the reports about Obamacare focus on the law’s shortcomings and failures.

There are no signs GOP leaders know what to do about this. As I noted here yesterday, those leaders have fed the base lies and distortions about Obamacare for literally years now. Yet they are suddenly, frantically trying to inject reality into the debate by pointing out that the defund-Obama crusade is deeply crazy, self destructive, and doomed to fail. But the time for injecting reality into the debate has long since passed.

* OBAMACARE IS `NON-NEGOTIABLE’ FOR DEMS: Indeed, Politico reports that in closed door meetings between the White House and Democrats, one message is regularly sounded with real clarity: There will be no negotiating over anything that would undermine the Affordable Care Act.

That’s good. Now we need leading Republicans to understand and believe it.

* HOUSE CONSERVATIVES KEEP UP ANTI-OBAMACARE DRUMBEAT: Roll Call reports that 43 House conservatives are now submitting their own plan to defund Obamacare, while also cutting spending more deeply:

Rather than fund the government for a month and a half at the post-sequester top line of $988 billion, it would run through all of fiscal 2014 at the lower, $967 billion levels many Republicans favor. And, instead of relying on a legislative maneuver to force the Senate to vote on defunding Obamacare without risking a shutdown at the end of the month, it contains language that would actually zero out funding for the president’s signature health care law.

This is instead of the House GOP leadership escape hatch scheme that’s been talked about so much lately. Having such a large bloc of conservatives against the leadership plan would probably make it impossible for it to pass, since Dems also oppose it.

* IMMIGRATION REFORM LOSES MOMENTUM: Byron York reports the bipartisan House “gang of seven” immigration bill, a possible vehicle for getting Republicans to take comprehensive reform seriously, is on hold:

The concerns some Republican Gang members heard at town hall meetings convinced them that the proposal’s security and enforcement measures must be strengthened before GOP colleagues would even consider them.

That sounds like yet another excuse for inaction. I’m told the delay is partly about not wanting to roll something out during the Syria debate. Whoever is right, the GOP’s basic dilemma is unchanged: If Republicans kills immigration reform, Latinos will hold them responsible for it.

* IMMIGRATION ADVOCATES PLAN TO RAMP UP: This line from a Times account on this week’s immigration protests, in response to news Republicans will delay on reform because of Syria, is key: “Immigrant groups have been marshaling their forces for a fight on the House floor this fall, and leaders warned they could adopt increasingly aggressive tactics if the debate stalls in the House.”

As I noted yesterday, the Syria debate will not change the way Latino media view this debate; they will see right through any stalling tactics. The GOP calculus on this issue remains unchanged.

* ASSAD TAUNTS AMERICA: Bashar al-Assad, in a new interview, is hinting he’ll use the current diplomacy underway to delay and obfuscate on whether he’ll really comply with a strict set of conditions for a rapid relinquishing of chemical weapons. As one analyst tells the Times, Assad’s game-playing could put Obama “in a stronger position vis-à-vis airstrikes.”

The White House may well use Assad’s foot-dragging to renew the case to Congress, but I don’t know if that will soften lawmakers’ opposition. In any case the diplomatic process should be given a chance to work.

* THE CASE AGAINST LARRY SUMMERS: Michael Hirsh makes perhaps the most extensive argument yet against Larry Summers as Fed chair, hitting everything from his temperament to his pro-deregulatory past. It looks like we may be heading for a public fight between the White House and Senate Dems over Summers. This, despite the fact that Janet Yellen would mean a far easier. As Hirsh notes, she would “undoubtedly win overwhelming confirmation and was recently rated the Fed’s most accurate forecaster since 2009 on issues from growth to jobs to inflation.”

* WHY A DE BLASIO VICTORY IS SO IMPORTANT: Paul Krugman’s column today notes that political conditions on the federal level don’t allow for any serious effort to address the widening inequality that will continue to be a defining characteristic of our time. As Krugman notes, a Bill de Blasio mayoralty will allow a test of progressive economic solutions — like universal prekindergarden paid for by taxing the rich — and will tell us whether “de Blasio’s unexpected rise is the leading edge of a new economic populism that will shake up our whole political system.”

What else?