Sen. Ted Cruz speaking on the Senate floor. (R-Tex.) (Senate TV via Associated Press) Sen. Ted Cruz speaking on the Senate floor. (R-Tex.) (Senate TV via Associated Press)

We have heard some very silly things uttered by politicians and activists over the last few weeks, but none sillier than the comments at the end of the shutdown. After an obliterating defeat (even Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota concedes the president got “100 percent of what he wanted”) characters like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and the band of true-believers in Congress, talk radio and the far-right blogs insist it was all worth it. It is always good to fight. What matters is to stand up. People want us to do this.

This is wrong, terribly wrong, and reveals the depth of their cynicism. When they claim to be “advancing” through actions like this, it plainly is an acknowledgement that their advancement comes at the expense of the GOP and the country.

It is always good to fight. Nonsense. One fights for worthwhile things and for attainable things, sometimes to lay the foundation for another battle. Here, Heritage Action chief executive Mark Needham conceded that eliminating Obamacare, the falsely identified goal of all of this, would only come with GOP victories in the Senate and White House. It is not a conservative value, nor is it morally defensible to fight and harm those who would join you for no reason.

What matters is to stand up. The hubris of the comment is remarkable. Every Republican in Congress has voted multiple times against Obamacare. Most every Republican challenger speaks about its drawbacks and ties his or her opponent to the disastrous legislation. But those don’t “count” and weren’t for “real” says Cruz. But wait. What is important is to stand up, right? And Cruz’s effort was no more real, indeed a lot less so, than logically conceived efforts to expose and disable Obamacare.

People want us to do this. Which people? Not the country. Not Republicans generally. If the shutdown squad refers only to their narrow base or to a portion of the voters who chose them, they don’t understand their obligations. Once elected, they represent all the voters in their jurisdiction. It is fine, in fact Burkean conservatives would heartily agree, to claim the right to inject your own judgment and views in place of those of your constituents. But when you claim to be speaking for your voters and you are not, well, that’s simply dishonest.

None of these rationalizations matches the pretense at the beginning of the fight. The Cruzans claimed the fight was winnable. They claimed the other side would “blink.” They claimed Republicans alone could obtain this. They told us those who objected were betraying the conservative cause. None of that was true, and the fight surely wasn’t justified on the grounds that “this won’t work but it’s important to fight.” Last night on Fox  News, Cruz went so far as to claim that all he and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) were fighting for was “an opportunity for a compromise” but that their compatriots wouldn’t go along. This is out and out false.

Truth be told, if you operate a right-wing Web site that has fewer than half a million unique visitors a month or host a radio talk show with a few million regular listeners, “fighting” plays well with a very select audience of devoted, hard-bitten fans. Taking your right-wing conference from 2,000 to 4,000 or your fundraising haul from $200,000 to $1 million is “advancing.” But the fights are in no way representative of the conservative movement, nor do they inure to its benefit; it certainly doesn’t respond to the desires of the American electorate as a whole. If you are gratifying (even expanding) the micro-audience at the expense and the wishes of the GOP, then, in essence, you are only advancing your own interests.

The phenomenon is starkly displayed in a recent poll by Pew. The bottom line is that the antics of the far-right are very, very popular with a smaller and smaller share of the voters. It’s a formula designed to boost readership for right-wing media outlets, but it could destroy the GOP as a national party. Pew reports:

The Tea Party is less popular than ever, with even many Republicans now viewing the movement negatively. Overall, nearly half of the public (49%) has an unfavorable opinion of the Tea Party, while 30% have a favorable opinion.

The balance of opinion toward the Tea Party has turned more negative since June, when 37% viewed it favorably and 45% had an unfavorable opinion. And the Tea Party’s image is much more negative today than it was three years ago, shortly after it emerged as a conservative protest movement against Barack Obama’s policies on health care and the economy. . . .  The Tea Party’s favorability rating has fallen across most groups since June, but the decline has been particularly dramatic among moderate and liberal Republicans. In the current survey, just 27% of moderate and liberal Republicans have a favorable impression of the Tea Party, down from 46% in June.

As for Cruz personally, the numbers suggest he’d be more successful as a Fox talk show host than as a national candidate:

Sen. Ted Cruz’s popularity has soared among Tea Party Republicans while declining among non-Tea Party Republicans. Since July, as Cruz’s visibility has increased, his favorable rating among Tea Party Republicans has risen by 27 points – from 47% to 74%.

In July, Cruz’s image was mixed among non-Tea Party Republicans (26% favorable, 16% unfavorable); most (58%) had no opinion of the Texas Republican. Unfavorable opinions of Cruz among non-Tea Party Republicans have risen 15 points since then, while favorable views are unchanged.

In short, the shutdown fiasco has demonstrated that in order to garner attention and support, Cruz and his ilk must conceal their motives and misrepresent their prospects, in large part because the louder they holler the more unpalatable to the country as a whole they — and, to an extent, their party — become. The GOP needs every voter it can get, but if a tiny sliver of its membership is forfeiting a much larger segment of the electorate, then remedial measures need to be taken. No one should be “excommunicated” — the notion is preposterous in the context of voluntary party associations — but they need to be defeated ( just as Bill Clinton and the Third Wave crushed the far left)  if the GOP is to survive and flourish.

UPDATE: An e-mail from Friends of Mike Lee (Lee’s PAC), titled “Abuse” (!!), is revealing both in its self-pitying tone and its instantaneous plea for money only hours after the vote. “Despite the constant barrage of attacks against Republicans, and the Tea Party especially, for ‘causing’ the government shutdown, the American people still do not want Obamacare any more than they did two weeks ago. In fact, the American people demand that their Representatives and Senators in Washington protect them from the vast and harmful effects of this law. . . . I need your support to continue the fight to protect the American people from Obamacare and this out-of-control administration. Please commit to chipping in a small donation to help me make the case that our stand against Obamacare will not hinder, but actually help our chances to take back the Senate.” You can’t get more shameless than that.