Underestimating what the House GOP is capable of

In his NYT column today, Ross Douthat sketches out how congressional Republicans expected the debt-ceiling fight to go. Phase One involved setting the terms of the debate in their favor, tying massive spending cuts to a step that has always been considered routine housekeeping. This, obviously, has gone exceedingly well for the GOP.

Phase Two was the endgame, which included public relations, forcing Dems to give Republicans everything they want, and making the other side appear unreasonable. The GOP not only failed to think this part through, they’ve actually managed to screw it up so badly, Republicans are the ones losing the public and looking unreasonable.

Douthat expected a better outcome.

For Republicans, this would have required one of two maneuvers: either modestly scaling back the size of the spending cuts they were seeking, or finding a few places in the tax code (the ethanol tax credit? the carried-interest loophole? those corporate jets the president keeps talking about?) where they could live with raising revenue by eliminating a tax break or capping a deduction.

For months, I had assumed that the Republican leadership would be able to find support within its caucus for option No. 2. Based on John Boehner’s brief flirtation with a “grand bargain” that would have included tax reform, the speaker of the House thought so as well.

But based on how quickly he abandoned that flirtation, it appears we were both mistaken.

I feel like this comes up quite a bit. Observers who tend to watch political developments very closely assume Republican tactics include a fair amount of posturing, and that GOP officials don’t really believe their own rhetoric. ‘These guys are right-wing and inflexible,” the argument goes, “but they’re not that right-wing and inflexible.”

But they are. Most of the Republicans on Capitol Hill aren’t posturing; they’re just genuinely crazy. It’s time for the political world to adjust its expectations accordingly.

Paul Krugman noted the other day how amusing it is to see so many observers “suddenly waking up and smelling the crazy.”

[T]his isn’t something that just happened, it’s the culmination of a process that has been going on for decades. Anyone surprised by the extremism and irresponsibility now on display either hasn’t been paying attention, or has been deliberately turning a blind eye.

And may I say to those suddenly agonizing over the mental health of one of our two major parties: People like you bear some responsibility for that party’s current state…. [T]here has been no pressure on the G.O.P. to show any kind of responsibility, or even rationality — and sure enough, it has gone off the deep end. If you’re surprised, that means that you were part of the problem.