but does anybody see a Republican endgame in the fiscal cliff negotiations that isn’t about intra-Republican positioning and careerism?

John Boehner looks like he is just trying to muddle through and get the best deal from Obama under conditions where Obama is more popular, more trusted and Republicans are stuck in the tough position trying to prevent tax increases on high earners even if it means middle-class tax increases, disruptive cuts to defense and . . . the very same high earner tax increases they are trying to prevent. That is a tough position. Actually his position is even tougher than that since getting to a deal with Obama is subordinate to preventing his defenestration from members of his own caucus. He can’t reach a deal if he is ex-Speaker.

The situation for the die hards to Boehner’s nominal “right” isn’t much better. Theirs is the 1990 Gingrich playbook. Oppose the tax increases and position yourself as the authentic conservative alternative to the sellouts in the Republican congressional leadership, and then use your enhanced authenticity appeal among the grassroots to maneuver into the leadership yourself. The problem is that today’s would be Gingriches aren’t just voting against tax increases. Taxes go up if nothing happens. They need positive cooperation from the Democrats to prevent tax increases. Intransigence from the Republican right actually makes the tax increases bigger rather than smaller. This point is unlikely to be lost on the electorate - and that includes the portion of the electorate that votes in Republican primaries. In the meantime, I’m not sure anybody is thinking seriously about the long-term economic interests of the country or the long-term political interests of the Republican party.

A fine mess.

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