Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) after his marathon speech against Obamacare. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

A life-long Republican, donor and activist offered the most plausible explanation of what is going on that I have heard yet: Speaker of the House John Boehner (Ohio) has one bullet left in his arsenal to confront the right wing and, if need be, resolve a logjam by going to the Democrats for needed votes. He has to use that for the debt ceiling, as a responsible leader who is unwilling to let the country suffer real and material damage. (As we saw in the Syria authorization, the speaker is a patriot and is not going to place partisan advantage over serious national interests.) In the meantime, Boehner will let the radicals stew and see if at least part of the blame for the damage can be shared by the Democrats.

It is as plausible as any theory and meshes with the private and public statements of House leadership that the Democratic Senate can’t refuse to bargain forever. None of them predict a quick resolution, nor seem the slightest bit interested in immediately confronting the right wing.

As a former labor attorney, I can best compare this to a strike. Both sides thought the other would blink; the result of the misjudgment is a work stoppage. But in a strike both sides eventually want to get a deal. In this case, the administration plainly doesn’t and has no incentive to offer the House Republicans any face-savers.

So what to do? The conservative media is in full denial, suggesting the Republicans not budge. That’s about what you’d expect from the people who thought Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) knew what he was doing.

Meanwhile, the crowd that started this confrontation seems to have come full circle. If you can believe it, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) now lectures Congress not to hold the government hostage. No, really:

Lee, who has said he hopes the current shutdown will be short, said the House has tried three different approaches to funding the government — all of which changed or delayed the health care reform law — and the Senate rejected them, so it’s time to try a new strategy.

“In light of that, let’s leave Obamacare for another day and not hold hostage the vast majority of government functions,” Lee said.

The Utah Republican has claimed credit for kickstarting the effort to use the federal budget as leverage to halt funding for Obamacare, a move that led to the impasse and the government shutdown after Democrats refused to yield to any of the House Republicans’ demands.

Umm, so forget the whole thing, I suppose, and fund the government, and forget about the goofy shutdown? Lee’s inadvertent admission that his entire concept (forcing a shutdown) is both wrong and ineffective is at least a sign the instigators are a tad nervous. If he is serious, he should tell the House right-wingers face to face that it is time to pack it in.

But the problem of course is that Boehner has nothing to offer on the continuing resolution that Democrats will accept, and the president suffers no harm from the shutdown while enjoying the distraction from the Obamacare roll-out problems.

There is one obvious way out, although a complete retreat in the next day or so remains another possible outcome. We are now looking at the debt ceiling just around the corner. Rather than talk about the continuing resolution, why not have a conference on the debt ceiling package? There both sides can see if there is a basis for a few trade-offs. Republicans “win” by getting a debt-ceiling negotiation going; Democrats win by not buckling on the GOP’s demands. And, \as a practical matter, the debt ceiling is far more critical than whether the park service gets back to work today or in a week or so.

In essence, I’m suggesting the continuing resolution get rolled up into the debt negotiations at this point. If there is any chance to avoid catastrophe now is a good time to start.