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Joe Gandelman: Jumping the political cliff?

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Is the Republican Party about to jump off the cliff? No, not the fiscal cliff, the political cliff — as in government shutdown or debt default.

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Although there are increasing rumblings from members of the Republican Party political and media establishment that they don’t intend to go along with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s drive to force a government shutdown to defund Obamacare, it’d be an iffy bet in Vegas that it’s a "given" the House won’t force a shutdown or debt default. Forget the conventional wisdom: it has been wrong about 21st century conservatives repeatedly.

This comes at a time when in terms of actual power and clout, the country’s political center is on life support. Why? Partly due to the growth of social media as a rallying and pressure point; left and right political news and talk shows that transmit ideological talking points, thrive on left-right controversy and diss the middle; and the breathtaking cowardice of politicians whose main priority is to stay in office. (Sorry, a bipartisan deal to avert a shutdown for two months wouldn’t be courageous.) But there is a glimmer of hope: two polls suggest America’s center is alive —- with voters.

A Gallup Poll found the public favors compromise over sticking to principles and getting nothing done 53 percent to 23 percent. The poll showed a desire to compromise across the political boards with higher margins among Democrats, Independents, moderates and liberals than among Republicans and conservatives. Meanwhile, a poll by United Technologies/National Journal/Congressional Connection found a solid majority of Americans want legislation delaying or defunding Obamacare separate from any government funding or debt-limit votes.

The depth of the GOP establishment’s disagreement with younger conservatives who believe compromise and building consensus is for political wimps, talk show hosts and conservative new media types such as right wing bloggers, can be seen in the Wall Street Journal editorial board’s acknowledgement of political defeat on the Obamacare defunding issue. In an editorial, the board wrote "however this charge into the fixed bayonets turns out, we hope the folks who planned it will take responsibility for what happens now...The only real way to repeal the law is to win election. But we’ve lost this debate, and Generals Cruz and [Utah Sen. Mike] Lee are in charge."

The problem for the GOP is that Cruz only talks to and appeals to the far-right conservative choir. And there is an irony in the Republican Party’s — and conservatism’s — situation.

On the concept of less government spending, it has been two steps forward, one step back for conservatives since then-President Ronald Reagan began downsizing government. But their advance seems inexorable. The sequester was always supposed to be some hideous bad-case scenario that the two parties would n-e-v-e-r allow to remain and be a scare-your-pants-off incentive for compromise. It turns out, however, that GOPers concluded they could live with most of the cuts — and now the Democrats are stuck with a worst-case scenario as likely permanent.

In a post on Talking Points Memo, Sahil Kapur also notes this as well. But that’s the way it has been in today’s GOP: the party is increasingly driven by its right wing, the tea party, and the talk show political culture consisting of talk show hosts trying to whip up audiences to gin up ratings to deliver to advertisers. Primary challenge threats are "enforcers." And, P.S.: Republican rebranding is dead.

If there is a government shutdown, Cruz will go down in conservative political history as a hero and can’t be counted out as a 2016 Presidential primaries favorite.

And if he succeeds in getting Republicans to force a government shutdown or a default on the debt, come 2016 he’ll be considered a political Jim Jones.

Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He can be reached at jgandelman@themoderatevoice.com.

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