Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) (Danny Johnston/Associated Press) Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) (Danny Johnston/Associated Press)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and his acolytes pride themselves on fighting  for its own sake and have no problem taking on losing battles. That works well for them in the legislative arena when they can blame their own side for being insufficiently stalwart and when, to be frank, they didn’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory because victory was impossible. However, it is a whole other game when it comes to elections. As Republicans saw in 2010 and 2012, going with the far-right’s nominee does mean winnable Senate seats are lost. Moreover, repeated losses by hardliners undermine their central claim that they are the true conservatives and most in touch with the electorate.

Immune to experience and blind to reality, the hard right seems to be repeating its errors. In Virginia, Sens. Rand Paul  (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) have been visible supporters of another member of the hardliners club, Ken Cuccinelli, who is now trailing in the Virginia governor’s race. Even though Cuccinelli opposed the shutdown, he is being tied to its proponents. An email from the Fairfax County Democrats sent out today is typical: ” We can’t afford more Tea Party shutdown politics in Virginia, and that’s why we have to go all out to elect Democrats up and down the ticket on November 5th. Cuccinelli has been appearing at events all over Virginia with the likes of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul – sending a clear message about what kind of politics he’d bring to the governor’s mansion.” (Emphasis in original)

If Cuccinelli loses, his brand of confrontational politics and his association with the shutdown squad (family or not) will be part of the reason. That’s one strike for the Cruz/Rand Paul/Heritage Action wing.

A second strike may come in Kentucky. There, even the less ferocious shutdown proponents (Rand Paul and Florida Senator Marco Rubio) support Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. But not Cruz, Heritage Action, the Madison Project and the Senate Conservatives Fund. If McConnell gets by hapless challenger Matt Bevin, won’t the lesson be that the farther out there you get into the right-wing swamp, the less effective you will be?

Part of  the aura of importance that Cruz and Jim DeMint concoct is built on the illusion that they can successfully primary non-compliant Republicans. If they can’t and if their endorsement becomes the kiss of death they will have less and less pull.

The third strike may be just around the bend for Cruz, DeMint and their ilk. Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) is a rock-ribbed conservative who voted against the final bill to end the shutdown. He is also a staunch internationalist, which is becoming a no-no among the far right. If he wins his race in 2014, that will suggest that tough conservatives can’t be painted as wimps and slackers by the shutdown squad.

In short, the shutdown squad can’t keep losing legislative and electoral ballots. Otherwise, people will recognize that for all their barking they have very little bite. If Cuccinelli loses and McConnell and Cotton win, pols and donors may recognize that whatever their motives, the Cruzans are a bunch of losers. And losing is the one thing no politician or movement can endure for very long.