Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in the Old Senate Chamber. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press) Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in the Old Senate Chamber. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

There’s something strange going on, at least potentially, in the run-up to this fall’s budget showdown. It’s evident in Brian Beutler’s recent analysis. What’s strange is that all the attention seems to be on the Republicans who are least relevant to a budget solution — and the even stranger position of the Republicans who are most relevant.

There’s one group of Republicans that’s getting lots of attention: Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and their allies, who are making demands that will certainly not be met. They’re getting lots of attention, but since many of them, certainly including Cruz and Lee, are going to vote against pretty much any government funding bill that President Obama would sign, they’re also mostly irrelevant to the situation. At best, they matter only because the particular demands they make help set the terms under which the Republicans who do eventually cut a deal will be seen by some conservatives as selling out. But it’s the structure of the situation, not the particular demands, that will yield RINO accusations when a deal is eventually made (And Beutler is correct about that: The only real certainty about the outcome is that eventually, with or without a shutdown, a deal will be made).

Then there’s the group Beutler spends most of his time on — the Senate Republicans who made the deal on executive branch confirmations (and made it work), and who worked on and voted for the immigration bill. He’s right that they’re the ones who want to negotiate a sensible budget deal, one that will get Republicans what they can while recognizing the Democratic majority in the Senate and Obama’s reelection. The problem with that group, however, is the opposite of the first one: They’re going to vote for whatever deal is struck! And they don’t have enough votes to pass the deal in the House.

The people who really matter, in other words, are (and yes, you’ve heard this again and again from me) mainstream House conservatives. This is going to be a tough vote for them; they don’t like to differentiate themselves from the Crazy Caucus. They don’t like to be called RINOs. And yet, at the end of the day, they’ll eventually have to either vote for a deal or allow House Speaker John Boehner to bring it up and pass it with mostly Democratic votes (and even then, some of their votes may be needed to get it across the finish line).

What’s really strange, then, is that they’ve managed to put themselves in a position in which they have the crucial vote in all of this, but they seem to have managed to take themselves out of negotiations. They’re apparently going to be represented by senators who are probably more moderate than they are, while the terms of what is the “real” conservative position are set by demagogues and crazies.

And apparently they’re relatively happy to be there. I don’t know; seems strange to me.