Shutdown strategy report: Obamacare popularity boosted; House GOP popularity tanked

You didn’t have to be in the room to know what happened at the big White House shutdown confab Thursday.

All you had to do was hop over to the nearest computer and read the latest NBC/WSJ poll.

The House Republicans lost in what is being routinely called “jaw-dropping” fashion. That’s as measured by the pollsters. I’m guessing what happened in the room was something very similar — except that the dropping jaws were hitting a great big table.

Finally, we’ve reached common ground: Republicans know they’ve lost. Barack Obama knows they’ve lost. And, if you trust the polls, nearly everyone knows they’ve lost: 53 percent blame House Republicans for the shutdown; 31 percent blame Obama. In our divided America, that’s basically unanimity.

It’s so bad, in fact, that even the Koch brothers felt the need to say they oppose shutting down the government as a way to get Obamacare defunded — holy grail that it might be.

And so, the end game now should be obvious. The government goes back up. Some House Republicans were on TV saying it could happen by Monday. The debt ceiling rises, for six weeks, maybe for three months, maybe longer. Life gets back to normal, which, given the state of our economy, isn’t a great thing, but at least it’s doable.

But if it were that obvious, we would never have gotten to this point.

The flat earthers — the ones who are saying that default would be a good thing for the economy; the same ones who, once upon a time, were saying the presidential polls were skewed — may still be in denial, no matter what anyone says. And it’s not just the pollsters. Charles Krauthammer knew from the beginning how this would turn out, and he’s still on TV every day slamming Sen. Ted Cruz for getting the House into this mess. Grover Norquist, who also knew, is waiting by the phone for any reporter to call so he can blast Cruz.

We knew this would be ugly, and now it is. You know it’s ugly by how civil everyone was after the meeting. When Republicans call the meeting “useful,” what they mean is, we need a way out, and Obama has to help us not be totally humiliated.

The problem is, Obama is not that good. No one is good enough to rescue Republicans from the fact that they shut down the government for absolutely no reason. And here’s the kicker: They went to full self-destruct mode exactly at the same time the Obamacare exchanges were fumbling out of the starting gate – except that no one noticed because all you could see was Republicans making giant fools of themselves.

I’ll give you just a few of the headline NBC/WSJ poll numbers. We’ll start with this: Obamacare is now more popular than when the shutdown began. Yes, more popular. Obama’s approval ratings are also edging . . . up. Yes, up.

Meanwhile, Republican congressional approval ratings are at 24 percent, the lowest in the poll’s history. And even more damaging: 70 percent think Republicans are in the battle only to further their own agenda. That’s not a bad number. That’s a catastrophic number. House Republicans are not only risking the full faith and credit of the country. They’re also risking the full faith and credit of their party. (And, for the record, the respected NBC/WSJ poll is conducted jointly by Democratic and Republican pollsters. Just sayin’.)

How could the GOP brain trust – and yes, I mean you, Newt Gingrich – not realize how this would turn out? Is the so-called big-government party really going to be blamed for shutting down the government? Aren’t Republicans the defunders who are always threatening to shut down one government program or another? This was a pretty simple exercise in logic. Why would Obama want to shut down his own government? Why would Obama want to be the first president to default on his government’s debt?

Should we ask Ted Cruz, or his buddy Sen. Mike Lee, how the logic works? Krauthammer has an idea. Ask him about Cruz and Lee, and he’ll go beyond the cliff-diving, suicide-caucus metaphors he once found sufficient and head straight for the big one – Gen. George Armstrong Custer himself.

Here’s Krauthammer on the Laura Ingraham radio show: “I mean his sidekick, Sen. Lee said, ‘Oh, we’re past Obamacare. We moved on.’ These are the generals who lead people into the Battle of Little Bighorn and then go home and have lunch and leave the troops out there? Where are they? Where are the generals? What’s their strategy to get abolition of Obamacare?”

At this point, the only strategy that matters is how to finally get out of this mess. It looks as if the Senate Republicans are trying to help their House colleagues — putting together a bill that with Democratic help could pass the Senate, extend the debt ceiling, reopen the government and set up some framework for budget talks. There isn’t much time — default day is next Thursday — but could the House Republicans refuse to vote on a bipartisan Senate bill?

Actually, I guess they could. The course seems so obvious now, but there is still the possibility of an alternative ending. The Tea Partiers don’t budge. John Boehner is frozen in fear. The Senate gets stuck in filibuster mode. The House Republicans refuse to reopen the government. They let the economy go over a cliff.

And then hope the voters forget about it in time for the next poll, the big one in November, 2014.

[ Image: The eyes of House Speaker John Boehner. ]