The tide of public opinion keeps turning

For the better part of the year, congressional Republicans were able to argue, accurately, that Americans opposed raising the debt ceiling. It was arguably the only honest claim the GOP made in this debate: poll after poll showed public opposition to doing the right thing.

There was ample evidence that the public had no idea what the debt ceiling is, or what the consequences would be if it weren’t raised, but at least on the surface, far-right Republicans could credibly claim some public backing for their reckless tack.

With this in mind, it’s worth appreciating the extent to which the winds have shifted very quickly. Consider the results of the new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

More than eight in 10 — including 80 percent of Republicans — say there would be serious harm to the U.S. economy if the government could not continue to borrow money to fund its operations and pay its debts after Aug. 2.

Nearly as many — more than three-quarters — say the financial reputation of the United States would be severely undermined if the government’s borrowing power dried up. Six in 10 say such an event would deeply hurt their own financial situations.

The same poll found that a majority of Republican voters believe their own party should be more willing to compromise — and that most self-identified Republicans support new revenue as part of a larger debt-reduction plan.

Congressional Republicans, in other words, haven’t even convinced their own supporters.

Also consider the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, which found that a plurality of Americans — for the first time — actually wants Congress to increase the debt ceiling. Also note the speed with which this turned around: in April, a tiny 16% minority was on board with doing the right thing. Three months later, that total has more than doubled and is now a plurality.

And this comes on the heels of the latest results from Gallup that showed, contra John McCain’s absurd boast, that Americans are desperate to see the parties compromise and strike a deal, even if they don’t agree with all of its provisions.

Indeed, while Republicans could credibly claim public support on the overall debt-ceiling question as recently as a couple of months ago, those days are long over.

The GOP can take some solace in the fact that the larger debate is occurring on their turf — they set the agenda here, and Democrats barely tried to resist — but when it comes to every other relevant detail, Republicans are losing badly.

The American mainstream fears the consequences of failure, wants a debt-ceiling increase, expects new revenue, supports tax increases on the wealthy, wants Republicans to be more flexible in reaching a compromise, would blame Republicans if a deal doesn’t come together, and trusts President Obama more in dealing with this mess. This clearly isn’t what Boehner, McConnell, & Co. had in mind.

Also note, this is in keeping with expectations. When struggling to understand why Americans would oppose a debt-limit increase, many of us said the public would come around — and sanity would prevail — once they learned more about why this is important and necessary. Over the last month or so, that’s exactly what’s happened.