It’s no secret the Republican Party is dealing with a right-wing contingent, which is small but loud and which threatens to run the party off the rails. My colleague Karen Tumulty posits, “That the government shutdown was a political disaster for the party that engineered it is widely acknowledged, except by the most ardent tea partyers. And that near-unanimity presents an opportunity for the establishment to strike back — and maybe regain some control from the insurgent wing.”
With expressions of regret about the shutdown strategy from figures like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who sided with the shutdown squad on key votes, that process is already underway. But the process won’t be complete until:
• There are successful primary challenges from the center against Republican shutdown advocates.
• Mainstream Republicans in primaries start using their opponents’ support for the shutdown in attack ads.
• The Heritage Foundation returns to respected research, and Jim DeMint decides to spend more time with his family.
• Republican candidates don’t want to campaign with GOP Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).
• Republicans have to defend their shutdown votes in GOP primaries just as Hillary Clinton had to defend her Iraq War vote in the 2008 Democratic primary.
• Cruz doesn’t get a speaking slot, at least in prime time, at the Republican National Convention.
• An endorsement by the Senate Conservatives’ Fund is considered the kiss of death for Republicans.
• Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) worries more about his participation in the shutdown vote than in immigration reform.
• Flagship conservative publications stop making excuses for Cruz.
• Newt Gingrich says the shutdown was “fundamentally” (a favorite Newtism) destructive.
• “It is always worth fighting” gets dropped in favor of “We have to fight smart” as the conservative mantra.
• Talk radio hosts rarely talk about the shutdown. (They never apologize; they just move on.)
All, or even a great many, of these would suggest the spell is broken and conservatives of good will have emerged from the fog of delusion and denial. The shutdown can be a palate cleanser for the GOP if it is recognized as emblematic of what radical right-wing politics will get you. If it forces Republicans to coalesce around positive, attainable ends and to put a premium on good governance, then the shutdown debacle will be seen as the end of a very bad time in the GOP’s history and not the beginning of its extinction.