Cruz has acknowledged that simply gathering the votes to pass a defund bill would require a "tsunami" of public demand for repeal, but there have been few if any signs of a such grass-roots demand. If there were one it would certainly be reflected in the House Republican Conference, but a senior GOP leadership aide recently told National Review Online that "we haven't seen any indication of a broad groundswell" in favor of the movement.
This is no surprise. Polls show that while Americans don't like the law, they also don't like repeal (owing at least in part to the fact that some people dislike Obamacare not because it goes too far but because it doesn't go far enough).
The result has been an elevation of the civil war between the fanatic and pragmatic sections of the Republican Party. The Senate Conservatives Fund, for example, this week started airing radio ads attacking seven senators – all Republicans – for refusing to sign on to the defund movement. Meanwhile, some conservatives have vowed to start referring to the law as "Boehnercare" rather than Obamacare if the House speaker doesn't join the effort.
There is an increasingly existential, panicky quality to the fringe right's lashing out at the reality-based portion of the party. "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist," Spacey's character remarks in "The Usual Suspects." The tea party fringe's greatest trick might have been convincing the world that it does exist, as a cohesive and potent political force anyway. But if pragmatists can defy the fanatics with impunity – and at this point the tea party seems unlikely to successfully pose a threat to GOP incumbents – it could expose the tea party as a force whose toxicity outweighs its utility.