THE ETERNAL DEBATE…. For years now, many of us have pondered the question: conservative Republicans don’t actually believe their arguments, do they? Publius considers this in the context of the hopelessly bizarre debate over the closing of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The right is probably lying, hoping to exploit the politics of fear, but what if conservatives have come to accept their own nonsense?

[T]here’s actually one thing even more disturbing than Republican dishonesty — the possibility that they are sincerely afraid of transferring the detainees. Some critics are clearly lying — no argument there. But it may well be that other Republicans are sincerely worried that the detainees’ evilness cannot be contained by any prison, or that they will brainwash their hapless prisonmates. […]

[W]hat’s truly disturbing is that a sizeable chunk of the public still fears that the Gitmo detainees are so dangerous that they could break out and destroy towns in America with laser beams from their eyes. Some of the detainees are, of course, very bad and dangerous people. But the idea that America is so very fragile and helpless in the face of these overpowering evil forces that we can’t transfer the detainees to another prison (or give them real trials) is absurd.

So let’s hope the GOP really is lying on this one.

That would be more comforting. Blatant dishonesty for partisan gain is much easier to understand than rampant stupidity among leading federal lawmakers.

It’s hard to say with any certainty, and there’s no doubt some variety within the group — some liars and some fools — but for what it’s worth, there’s ample evidence to support the “blatant dishonesty for partisan gain” theory. The Wall Street Journal reports today that Republicans see the debate over Gitmo as “the culmination of a carefully developed GOP strategy,” which they hope to use as “the beginning of a political comeback.”

The goal, apparently, was to identify a “favorable issue” on which the party could go on the offensive; “tarnish” Democratic leaders; and attack until the criticisms “begin to seem counterproductive.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) concluded more than a year ago that Mr. Obama might be vulnerable on Guantanamo — and the unease voters would have over the prospect of transferring suspected terrorists to U.S. soil. Since April 20 he has delivered 17 floor speeches on the issue. Mr. McConnell beat back party dissent over his strategy, as some argued it was a losing battle when the president enjoyed such high poll numbers.

The attacks, in other words, are largely a cynical ploy, predicated on Republican hopes that public fear will outweigh public reason, and that most Americans won’t realize how spectacularly dishonest the whole argument is.

That beats widespread stupidity, I suppose.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.