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Burned on a teacup

Make no mistake: Republicans castigating President Obama for S&P’s ill-considered downgrade are akin to a mugger attacking the mayor, then blaming the sheriff for “letting” him do it.

Republican members of Congress attacked the full faith and credit of the United States by arguing publicly that defaulting on our debts would not be so bad. No rating agency can hear that and remain confident America feels bound and determined to pay its bills.

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When every serious GOP economist and most every Republican who has carefully investigated the issue — from Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.) to former Sen. Alan Simpson (Wyo.) — conclude that both spending cuts and revenue increases are required to restore our fiscal heath, but Republican leaders announce they will refuse to appoint anyone to the supercommittee who might even consider eliminating billions in subsidies to oil companies, they not only subordinate the national interest to the interests of Big Oil, they also send an unmistakable message to rating agencies that they aren’t serious about restoring fiscal discipline, thereby mugging America’s credit rating. Then they attack President Obama for what—allowing them to speak freely, if foolishly?

The besmirching of the Republican brand is already evident:

First, “Tea Party” is becoming a dirty word. Coming out of last November’s elections, nearly a third of the public considered themselves Tea Party supporters, according to a CBS/New York Times poll. After the debt-ceiling debate, support fell by 13 points, to just 18 percent. Among independents, only 16 percent identify with the Tea Party.

More telling is the 25-point jump in unfavorable views of the Tea Party since 2010, so that now unfavorables outnumber favorables by a hefty 20-point margin.

Republicans running for every office from president to dog catcher are forced to pledge fealty to a group that is increasingly scorned by the American people.

The same could be said of the GOP itself. Just this week CNN/ORC pollsters found 59 percent of Americans harboring unfavorable views of the Republican Party, while only 33 percent offered favorable opinions. At no point in the last two decades has opinion of the Republican Party been so negative. Net unfavorables jumped 22 points since March.

(While hardly loved, Democrats are 26 points better off than the GOP.)

The declining fortunes of the Tea Party and Republicans are not unrelated. Forty-three percent of Americans say the Tea Party has too much influence in the GOP — up 16 points in four months.

That influence is pernicious. Americans want compromise and moderation, while Republicans emerge from this crisis looking uncompromising in their extremism. Public preference for compromise is clear — three recent polls found 66 percent to 85 percent saying they would rather the parties compromise than stick to their principles.

But the GOP failed this test. Fifty-six percent of those with an opinion believe Republicans compromised too little, compared to 37 percent who said that about President Obama and the Democrats.

The GOP is likely to emerge from this debate being seen as even more extreme than before. The evidence to date is indirect, but the logic is persuasive.

When most Americans say they want a balanced approach including both more revenue and less spending, but the GOP says no, they looks extreme. When most Americans want to reduce our deficit in part by eliminating taxpayer subsidies for Big Oil, but the GOP says no, they look extreme. When most Americans say “compromise” and Republicans say “never,” they look extreme.

Being uncompromising, extreme and in thrall to a movement that is becoming a pariah will hurt the GOP. Unfortunately, it hurts the country even more.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include the Majority Leader of the Senate and the Democratic Whip in the House.