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Republican in name only

It’s dogma within Tea Party circles that the more conservative a Republican is, the greater his or her electoral chances will be. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney weren’t conservative enough — hence, they lost their bids for the presidency. Thus, it’s these apostates, and pretty much the rest of the Republican establishment, who have been branded as RINOs (or Republicans in name only) and blamed for the GOP’s poor public image and recent anemic electoral performance.

Last week, conservative talk show host Sean Hannity called for the ouster of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), for not being sufficiently conservative. On the conservative Breitbart website, commenters shrugged at the story, noting that Hannity was a RINO. You see, even Fox News is too liberal for that crowd. And that crowd is no longer the GOP’s fringe — it is running the show.

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Boehner’s original plan was to pass a clean continuing budget resolution to keep the government open, then make a stand over the debt limit. That all changed after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz staged his faux-filibuster and took over the House Tea Party Caucus. Facing rebellion, Boehner essentially handed his gavel to Cruz and said, “She’s all yours.” The rebels had convinced themselves that public adulation would result from communicating a muscular and unfiltered conservatism. Now they had their chance: they would take on their white whale, the much-hated ObamaCare law.

Except Republicans read polls about as well as they govern: not very well at all. The approval-disapproval disparity for ObamaCare is in the single digits; it’s unpopular, but only marginally so. Much of that unpopularity comes from a left that wants a single-payer system or a public option, or from misunderstandings of the law — after all, specific provisions of the law poll strongly positive. In any case, even people who don’t approve of the Affordable Care Act strongly oppose shutting down the government to defund it.

Bottom line? Americans are skeptical, but they’re willing to give the law a chance.

So it’s hardly surprising that Republicans have walked off a cliff. According to Gallup, the GOP’s popularity has reached historical lows, and that was the best news they got all week. It turns out that the shutdown has made President Obama (+2), ObamaCare (+7) and government (+4) more popular than a month ago, according to a dramatic NBC/Wall Street Journal survey. The poll also found that Republicans are receiving more blame than they did during the 1995 shutdown, and that Democrats lead the generic congressional ballot 47-39, greater than the 7-point lead Dems need for a possible House takeover. The spread was just 46-43 a month ago. A Washington Post/ABC poll Monday found that 74 percent of Americans disapproved of the GOP’s handling of the budget, including 76 percent of independents.

And then there’s Cruz’s personal implosion. According to Gallup, Cruz’s favorability ratings were 24-18 a month ago. Last week, it was 26-36. That means that Cruz’s name ID increased 20 points, yet his negatives are up 18 — in other words, virtually everybody who is just now learning about Cruz doesn’t like him. So much for the overwhelming popularity of unapologetic conservatism. Or, for that matter, Cruz’s 2016 hopes.

The great irony, of course, is that the conservative rebels are now blaming Boehner for their party’s woes. And it’s true, he’s at fault! But not for being a RINO; after all, he’s been doing everything the Tea Party faction has asked of him. And that’s exactly where he went wrong.


Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com)