Want a good measure of how far Republicans are from being a healthy party? Check out Judd Gregg’s “to-be-sure” paragraph in a recent piece he wrote for The Hill.

Gregg had a column yesterday slapping down Ted Cruz and other Republican Crazy Caucusers. It’s legitimately brutal, and written to get attention, beginning with: “Most Americans these days are simply ignoring Republicans. And they should.”

Well, yes. But then we get to the to-be-sure — placed not close to the end, as the classic structure dictates, but smack-dab in the middle, and continuing far beyond one paragraph. This is the part in which Gregg, essentially, performs a Ritual of Conservative Obedience to establish his credentials so that the column is taken as “sane, loyal Republican criticizes suicidal strategy” and not “RINO establishment turncoat criticizes real conservatives” (and, yes, I know that RINO establishment turncoat isn’t exactly the most rational formulation, but it’s a thing, nonetheless. Well, it isn’t, but…oh, you know). Where was I…oh, yeah, Gregg:

None of this is to deny that ObamaCare is a disaster, especially for small businesses, most states and many healthcare providers. It should be replaced with something that will actually improve the quality and reduce the costs of healthcare. There are many good ideas in this area but they will not be achieved via an inherently self-defeating strategy…

Beginning next year, there will be a real outcry regarding the arbitrariness of the sequester cuts. At that point, the fight should be joined in earnest over the issue of changing ObamaCare to initiatives that improve and expand healthcare coverage rather than march toward a dysfunctional, single-payer system. 

So not only is this substantively nonsense — ACA may or may not be a good policy, but it certainly isn’t a “march toward a dysfunctional, single-payer system” — but it’s also tactical nonsense. After all, the message shifts here from a sensible one about the impossibility of the Cruzites getting their way by holding their breath until they turn blue into one about that being nuts this year…but perhaps appropriate once sequestration hits harder. Or something like that; it’s hard to tell exactly what he’s holding out as Plan B here.

At any rate, the point here isn’t whether Gregg makes sense; it’s what he feels he needs to do to get listened to by his target audience of non-crazy Republicans (how do we know that’s his target audience? Different audience gets different “to-be-sure” paragraph!). And, to tell the truth, it shows how hopeless the task is right now. Tea Party Republicans have spent four years now convincing themselves that the enemy within (the GOP) is in some ways an even bigger problem than the enemy in the Oval Office. And you know what? Advice they’re not apt to take from someone grovelling to their myths really isn’t going to push them in a better direction. Good for Gregg that he’s trying, and he’s of course correct about the defunding strategy right now, but my advice for anyone trying to push Tea Partiers back on the path to healthy governing is that they aren’t going to get there unless they give up their mythology, so you might as well be blunt.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.