It’s July 27. Th president has no debt-ceiling plan (other than to use chaos for partisan ends). The Reid bill is a non-starter with Republicans in the House and Senate, and with any Democrat who is serious about maintaining our national security. The only bill is the Boehner bill.

There are two ways to get past the latest bump: increase the cuts or provide a lower debt ceiling. Either would adhere to the promise to cut more than the debt ceiling is raised. The latter might be able to sway Senate Republicans, and would certainly enrage the White House, which wants the longest-term deal it can get. But guess what? The president took himself out of the bargaining, and now he’ll get whatever lands on his desk.

The Republican hard-liners insist there is still a cut, cap and balance option out there. No. That was some conservatives’ preference. An aspiration is not a guide to governance. It’s not getting through now or until there are a dozen or so fewer Democrats in the Senate. Right now we are nowhere close to 60 votes for cloture or the two-thirds of the Senate needed to approve a constitutional amendment. Anyone, be it a red-faced blogger or senator, who says, “Well we can still fight for it!” is spinning fodder for an audience, not policy for governing.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) tells Sean Hannity that we could go past Aug. 2 and keep fighting. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) says he won’t vote for the Boehner bill because conservatives were sent to do “big things.” If so, they are choosing default (and whatever that entails) over progress. They value their image as purists over the responsibility of leadership.

These folks like to say that they actually help their leadership in pushing the Congress to the right. Yes, but up to a point. They did that. There is no clean debt bill. They have a bill with no tax increases. Now they are not aiding the leadership; they are voting like Democrats (against a spending-cut bill). Sometimes there are enough votes to spare. They can maintain political purity while letting their colleagues do the hard work of governing. But not this time. Now every vote is essential.

There are very few times when Republicans have a vote that so clearly defines who is a constructive force for conservative governance and who is not. There could be no better device for separating the two than the Boehner vote. If you’d rather burn down the building, you are in one camp. If you want to pocket gains and keep advancing your principles (and setting the agenda for 2012), you are in the other.

As Bill Kristol observes today:

To vote against John Boehner on the House floor this week in the biggest showdown of the current Congress is to choose to vote with Nancy Pelosi. To vote against Boehner is to choose to support Barack Obama. It is to choose to increase the chances that worse legislation than Boehner’s passes. And it is to choose to increase the chances that Obama emerges from this showdown politically stronger. So when the Heritage Action Fund and the Club for Growth, and Senators Vitter, Paul, et al., choose to urge House Republicans to join the Democrats to defeat Boehner, they’re choosing to side with Barack Obama. . . .

They don’t even pretend to explain how defeating Boehner would produce a better policy or political result for conservatives — in the near or medium or long term. Because they can’t explain how defeat will produce victory. Defeat will produce ... defeat. There is no path to a better conservative outcome that follows from Boehner going down on the House floor this week.

A final word about the presidential contenders. They are running for president, not for Congress. It is perfectly legitimate to say what they would have done had they been in Obama’s shoes. (In fact, they are obligated, I would argue, to spell out their plans in some detail.) But they are likewise free to say, “If I were president we would have a 2012 budget that looks like X and we’d have a debt-ceiling agreement that would be far better. The Congress is dealing with a president and Senate who don’t think like I do, so Republicans have to make the best deal they can.”

Now, if a candidate chooses to weigh in (as Tim Pawlenty did in opposing the Boehner bill), or is obligated, as Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is, to vote when the final Boehner bill reaches the House floor, he or she has an obligation to explain why they think now it is wise to vote against the Boehner bill. They are running for president, not for the distinction of being the candidate embraced by the screechiest blogs. They need to tell us not what their opening position would be, but their final position. And then the primary electorate can assess whether their final position is illustrative of a viable presidential contender.