Jonathan Chait is not wrong.
Writing in this week’s New York Magazine, he posits the following:
Pragmatic conservatives warned their tea-party brethren that shutting down the government would not harm Obamacare and would instead harm the Republican Party. And lo, both halves of the prophecy have now come to pass. New polls by CNN and the Washington Post measure the damage. Both polls show Democrats taking an 8-point lead in the generic ballot for Congress — a result that, if it held up, would likely depose the Republican majority. The election is a year away, and everybody expects the damage to subside. But deeper reputation damage can be detected. CNN asks voters if they consider each party “too extreme” or “generally mainstream.” By a 52 percent to 42 percent margin, they deem the Democrats generally mainstream. By a 56 percent to 37 percent margin, they call Republicans too extreme. The shutdown may not have been an act of suicide — there’s plenty of time to recover — but it was surely a suicidal gesture.
In the wake of the debacle, reporters and mortified Republican pragmatists alike have attempted to reconstruct the erroneous thinking that led the GOP to undertake a doomed strategy. There certainly were elements of legitimate miscalculation at play. (The simplest and least appreciated is that many of them initially believed shutting down the government would halt Obamacare, and by the time they learned otherwise, they had already printed up the T-shirts.)
In the most important ways, though, the tea party’s strategy was not a strategy at all. On the surface, demanding an end to Obamacare in return for reopening the federal government was an insane negotiating strategy. Attempting to analyze these demands in strategic terms misses the point. It’s not a plan to achieve a defined legislative end. It’s a demonstration of dissent from a political faction that has no chance of winning through regular political channels. The problem they are attempting to solve in each case is not “how do we achieve this policy objective?” but “how can we express our outrage?”
When put in this context, there is an undeniable internal logic – I said “internal” – to the shutdown. Some people like to blow shit up just for the sake of watching it burn. In this context, Ted Cruz makes sense. In this context, shutting the government down to protest a law you don’t like is the ultimate rebellion.
And yes, it is a tantrum. And now it makes perfect sense.
For future reference, if you want to distinguish between something with internal logic and something with external logic, ask yourself this simple question: what happens next? Let’s say the Teabaggers got their way and somehow, Obamacare was repealed. What happens next? They still don’t grow the caucus, they still don’t become a bona fide political movement and they’ve still managed to incapacitate their own party worse than the nation.
What still has to be worked out is why 22 Representatives would be so treasonous to…nevermind the country…their own party as to blow it up now, and why Weaker Boener would let them?
It was a no-win situation for Boehner but it was an even bigger no-win situation for the Teabag caucus.
Chait hints at the motivation for this bizarre psychotic episode later on in his piece:
This reflects the deep vein of pessimism that has run through the right since the Obama era. I tried to capture it in my story a year ago, “2012 or Never,” which analyzed the widespread conservative belief that the last election represented a final chance for the old Reagan coalition to hold back Barack Obama’s America — which they imagined, in a distorted but not altogether false way, as racially polyglot and addicted to the spoils of redistribution.
The implications of this are staggering: it explains why the push to infest state & local legislatures with conservatives, right down to school boards. It’s a scorched earth policy that tries to ensure that whatever bounty the nation has put in place will be unavailable to future generations.
It’s the ultimate “I had mine, go fuck yourself,” conservative elitist commentary. It explains why infrastructure doesn’t get maintained. It explains why, in the face of thirty years of evidence to the contrary, conservatives still talk of tax cuts for the rich benefitting us all.
Mostly, It explains how Mitt Romney, an inconsequential man of Silly Putty values, could be selected as a national candidate against one of the most dynamic and beloved political figures of this century. They knew they’d lose. They were merely sewing salt in the planting fields.