If there’s one thing you’d think the events of the last few weeks might accomplish, it’s to get Republicans to reconsider whether beating Hillary Clinton in 2016 will be the cakewalk they apparently have been expecting. Clinton has posted strong fundraising numbers. Joe Biden has pulled out. A Bernie Sanders upset is looking increasingly unlikely. Clinton held her own, and then some, for half a day in last week’s Benghazi hearing. The credibility of the GOP investigations has been damaged. Republican probe ringleaders may be reconsidering their focus on her emails.

As I asked the other day: Do Republican strategists and establishment types really think beating Clinton in 2016 will be easy?

A new report from Mark Halperin supplies the answer: Yes, they do. Halperin concludes that Republicans are “in denial” about Clinton’s various 2016 advantages.

Halperin describes those advantages as follows: the Clinton team is far more competent than in 2008. She may wrap up the nomination early, while the eventual GOP nominee will be bloodied by a very long and bitter process. Clinton is a formidable debater. Clinton will have a demographic edge. Some of the positions Clinton is taking now may have majority support in a general election (a point your humble blogger has made as well).

But one of the most important advantages Clinton may have, according to Halperin, is the quality of Republican thinking about the 2016 election:

Some Republicans so detest Hillary Clinton they are badly underestimating how likely she is, at this point in the campaign, to be America’s 45th president. Their denial is just as strong now as it was a month ago, before Clinton began a run of political victories that have enhanced her prospects….many elite and grassroots Republicans believe Clinton’s personality, which they can’t stand, will keep her out of the Oval Office no matter what.
Republicans are erroneously convinced they can beat Clinton solely with talk of Benghazi, e-mails, and other controversies that have nothing to do with the economy and the real lives of real people. Nowhere does the Fox News-Rush Limbaugh echo chamber more hurt Republican chances of beating Clinton than in the politics of scandal and controversy. To paraphrase the famous line attributed to Pauline Kael: everyone who conservatives know think the Clintons should be in prison. The problem is that swing voters don’t share that view in sufficient numbers to actually warrant banking a victory on placing those arguments front and center.

I find it hard to imagine that the smarter GOP strategists really believe all this. But if this is the prevailing Republican theory of the 2016 election, there is precedent for it. In 2012, it often seemed as if Romney campaign officials’ assessments of the election were shaped by a tendency to believe their own superficial, GOP-base-friendly talking points about Obama. The Romney campaign convinced itself that there was no way Obama could possibly get reelected amid such high unemployment. The Romney camp convinced itself that there was no way the 2012 electorate could possibly be as diverse as it had been in 2008. Obama’s election was best explained as a fluke — his cult of personality had captivated nonwhite and young voters, but that would prove as fleeting as a high-school crush. There was no way swing voters in 2012 could possibly see the Obama presidency as anything other than an irredeemable catastrophe, since Republicans knew, just knew, that’s what it had been. Something similar might be happening now.

To be clear, we don’t know if Clinton will have the advantage next year. As it is the election is probably close to a 50-50 proposition based on the fundamentals. There could be new revelations about her email arrangement; the economy could dip; Republicans may nominate an unexpectedly strong candidate; Sanders could still pull off an upset; and so forth. But, presuming Halperin is right, what remains striking is the absolute certainty among Republicans that Clinton can’t possibly win, because they see how distasteful and scandal-ridden a figure she truly is, and swing voters will just have to see it their way, because it’s so obvious to them.

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* REPUBLICANS DIVIDED OVER DEBT LIMIT HIKE: With the November 3rd deadline for raising the debt ceiling looming, CNN reports that Congressional Republicans are divided:

Senate Republicans want to extend the debt ceiling until 2017 to take the issue off the table during an election year. House Republicans were forced last week to pull back a proposal crafted by a group of conservatives, that conditioned any debt increase to more spending cuts and a regulatory freeze, because it didn’t have enough support to pass. GOP leaders are still trying to come up with a proposal that includes some type of reforms their members can point to in return for increasing the nation’s borrowing authority.

Translation: House Republicans think they need to point to something they can present as unilateral concessions extracted from Democrats in exchange for helping to avert disaster for the country, or conservatives will get very, very angry.

* WHAT’S PAUL RYAN’S GAME PLAN? Here’s what to watch for: As the Post overview of the situation in the House points out, Paul Ryan has not been entirely clear on the conditions he will require in exchange for serving as Speaker. The election is later this week, and Ryan has been softening on his demand for a rules change that would make it harder to oust a Speaker.

But we still don’t know what change Ryan will push for. This is key, because Ryan will likely have to raise the debt limit and fund the government with Dems, on terms that infuriate the right, and the question then becomes how he will insulate himself from the blowback.

* ASSESSING THE OBAMA ECONOMY: A new report to be released today by Rob Shapiro, a leading economist in Bill Clinton’s White House, argues that wage growth under Obama might be better than it has appeared. The short version is that if you look at particular age groups and track their progress over time, they have achieved greater income growth in 2014 than the median figures suggest.

If this is right, and if it holds true for 2015 and 2016, democrats may have a stronger economic argument in the election than we have expected. Read the whole thing; it will likely drive some discussion.

* HILLARY LEADS IN IOWA; SANDERS LEADS IN NEW HAMPSHIRE: A new CBS News poll finds that Clinton leads Bernie Sanders among likely Iowa Dem caucusgoers by 46-43, but trails Sanders by 54-39 among likely New Hampshire Democratic voters. That’s consistent with the polling averages, which have Clinton up three in Iowa and behind by six in New Hampshire.

The Dem primary remains very close in the two earliest states. However, the new CBS poll also finds Clinton leading by 68-25 in South Carolina, a reminder that she may hold a very powerful advantage in the states that come later.

* TRUMP-MENTUM RAGES IN EARLY STATES: A new CBS News poll finds that Donald Trump leads among likely New Hampshire Republican voters with 38 percent, to 12 percent for Ben Carson, while Bush and Rubio are in single digits. In South Carolina, Trump leads with 40 percent, to 23 percent for Carson, while the others are in single digits here, too. In Iowa, Trump and Carson are tied at 27 percent.

Trump continues to refuse to peak!

* REPUBLICANS THINK TRUMP IS MOST ELECTABLE: A new Associated Press poll finds that seven in 10 Republican voters nationally think Donald Trump can win the presidency; six in 10 say the same about Ben Carson and Jeb Bush. And:

By an overwhelming 77 percent to 22 percent margin, Republican registered voters and leaners say they prefer an outsider candidate who will change how things are done, rather than someone with experience in Washington who can get things done.

As I keep telling you, Republican voters may be in the process of deciding Trump is a plausible nominee.

 * ROMNEY ADMITS TRUTH ABOUT OBAMACARE, WALKS IT BACK: The other day Mitt Romney accidentally said that Obamacare was helping a whole lot of people, which he quickly walked back. Paul Krugman has a good column tying this to the GOP base’s refusal to accept Obamacare’s successes, and the refusal of Republican governors to accept the Medicaid expansion for the good of their own constituents.

Krugman notes that there is no level of Obamacare success that would make the GOP base see things any other way, because “from the point of view of the Republican base, covering the uninsured, or helping the unlucky in general, isn’t a feature, it’s a bug.”

* THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING TEA PARTY: Gallup finds:

Americans’ support for the Tea Party has dropped to its lowest level since the movement emerged on the national political scene prior to the 2010 midterm elections. Seventeen percent of Americans now consider themselves Tea Party supporters, and a record 54% say they are neither supporters nor opponents.

Strikingly, Gallup says the Tea Party has also seen its support drop precipitously among Republicans since the glory days of 2010, suggesting that “the Tea Party movement’s impact on American politics is fading.” But no worries, it can still do a whole lot of damage along the way!

Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail

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CLEVELAND, OH - On the third day of a bus tour through Pennsylvania and Ohio, Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton along with running mate Senator Tim Kaine, and Anne Holton, aboard the campaign bus in Cleveland, Ohio on Sunday July 31, 2016. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)