There’s an increasingly obvious problem with the efforts of GOP congressional leaders to tamp down “base” support for a “defunding Obamacare” drive linked to a continuing resolution to keep the federal government operating this fall: they’re talking about other measures to cripple Obamacare–e.g., a delay in key provisions like the individual mandate–perhaps linked to other “hostages” like the debit limit, instead of talking about using whatever leverage they have to achieve other Republican objectives.

On Wednesday I compared these leaders to a parent trying to bribe an unruly child demanding ice cream with a double scoop sometime later. But what if ice cream production has come to a halt? Can the kids be talked into gorging themselves on some other kind of sugary treat?

I don’t know, but at Salon, the exceptionally well plugged-in Brian Beutler thinks it’s time for Republicans to stop talking about ice cream:

Even in the dour days of 2011, when Dems were defeated, morose, and willing to negotiate away almost anything, major provisions of Obamacare were off the table. In 2013, almost everything is off the table. They’re done getting mugged by the GOP. Funding the government and increasing the debt limit are fundamental responsibilities of Congress, and Republicans won’t get more than a couple fig leafs for marshalling enough votes to accomplish them….

I can imagine Democrats putting something genuinely marginal to the ACA on the table. Like I said, a fig leaf. But not the individual mandate. Getting many people into the insurance exchanges, and particularly young healthy people, is crucial to the law’s success, and the mandate is the only stick they have (and it’s a pretty flimsy one) to prod them in there. Everything else is carrots. It’s conceivable to me that the inducements, and the national enrollment outreach effort, will be successful enough on their own to render the mandate ancillary in 2014. But postponing it is too big of a risk.

Republicans should know this. I think GOP leaders do know it, and for the sake of stability and a calming autumn, I sure hope they do. If they don’t, they’ll blunder into these discussions completely blind to how empty they’re about to come up. They’ll feel like they got rolled, when in reality they’ll have simply been mistaken about the terms of the negotiation. And that’s the only way I can imagine these crazed theatrics transforming into a genuine crisis.

If, of course, GOP leaders talk their firebrands out of a frontal assault on Obamacare that they really, really want to undertake on grounds that it’s more realistic to pursue delays that Democrats won’t agree to under any circumstances, then the consequences will go beyond a turbulent autumn in Washington. The GOP congressional leadership really will suffer a massive loss of grassroots conservative confidence, and you could be looking at a national party unmistakably under the heel of Ted Cruz.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.