WHAT THEY’RE THINKING…. Markos Moulitsas commissioned a fascinating poll in January, getting a better sense of exactly what rank-and-file Republicans are thinking nationwide.

…I’m putting the finishing touches on my new book, American Taliban, which catalogues the ways in which modern-day conservatives share the same agenda as radical Jihadists in the Islamic world. But I found myself making certain claims about Republicans that I didn’t know if they could be backed up. So I thought, “why don’t we ask them directly?” And so, this massive poll, by non-partisan independent pollster Research 2000 of over 2,000 self-identified Republicans, was born.

The results are nothing short of startling.

Quite right. A plurality of rank-and-file Republicans wants to see President Obama impeached. More than a third of self-identified Republicans believe he wasn’t born in the United States. A 63% majority is convinced the president is a socialist, about a fourth believe he wants terrorists to be successful, and about a third think Obama is a racist who hates white people.

Nearly a third of Republicans think contraceptive use should be outlawed.

More than three-quarters of Republicans want public schools to teach children that the book of Genesis “explains how God created the world.”

A third of Southern Republicans want to see their state secede from the union.

Yesterday, when Kos started leaking some of these results on Twitter, Greg Sargent noted, “Folks on the left are having fun with these poll numbers allegedly showing Republicans are crazy, but pissing on the GOP base isn’t going to solve the Dems’ political problems. Sorry.”

That strikes me as both fair and accurate. It’s very easy to review these stunning results and think, “The Republican Party is dominated by nutjobs.” Whether that’s true or not will have no bearing on whether those nutjobs elect like-minded candidates to help run the country. (Indeed, in the same poll, 83% of self-identified Republicans said they intend to vote in November.)

That said, the poll results are important for reasons that have nothing to do with their point-and-laugh quotient. Markos noted the practical implications: “Ultimately, these results explain why it is impossible for elected Republicans to work with Democrats to improve our country.”

Exactly. When unhinged voters send far-right lawmakers to speak on their behalf, the result is a group of Republican lawmakers who a) are nowhere near the middle; b) disinclined to compromise; and c) have to toe the party line or risk punishment from the base.

I’d also note that Dems might be able to use numbers like these to characterize the GOP as having given up on the American mainstream. If independents and moderate Republicans begin to think that the GOP has fallen off a right-wing cliff, it’s at least possible that fewer and fewer Americans will want to have anything to do with the party or its candidates.

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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.