ESQ: What do you think the stakes are here?With all respect to Senator Reid, I really don't think that's a consideration. I think we're talking about something else altogether here.
HR: Let's assume that in the future, Obama's no longer president, there's a Republican president. And we Democrats say, "We're not going to raise the debt ceiling unless you pass background checks. Eighty-five percent of the American people support that, and we are not going to raise the debt ceiling until you pass it."
The Republicans may have stumbled into this, but there is a strategy here--even if most (or all) of them don't know what it is. It's a strategy born of their crushing loss in a Presidential election they believed they would win. It's born of the bleak demographic reality they face, and the complete failure of their attempts to neutralize it. It's born of recognition that their agenda is deeply unpopular, and that their base won't let them make a broader appeal.
The power play in the House is, simply put, a tacit admission that they're unlikely to take back the Presidency anytime soon. It isn't just that they don't have the Presidency now; it's that they think they've lost it permanently.
If the President makes any concessions at all to resolve either the shutdown or the debt ceiling fight (and Republicans are convinced he will), it will (as Reid notes) permanently diminish the Presidency. But where he's wrong is, that's not something the Republicans are afraid of; that's the whole point of this exercise. They know on some level they aren't going to win the Presidency, so they're going to do the next best thing: destroy it. And so transfer power to the body they still hold (thanks to a playing field skewed partly by gerrymandering and partly by the concentration of Democrats in urban districts)--which they believe they're going to keep for a long time to come.
That's the strategy here. That's what this is all about. That's what makes this, in Chait's phrase, a domestic Cuban missile crisis. And that's why the party "moderates", despite their crocodile tears about the shutdown, are going along with it.
Rule or ruin. It's all they know.