Republican pollster David Winston, perhaps best known for his polling work on behalf of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his caucus, asked national survey respondents a simple question: "Some members of Congress have proposed shutting down the government as a way to defund the president's health care law." Folks were asked whether they support or oppose the idea.
The results really weren't close. The survey, conducted not for a news organization but rather for congressional Republicans themselves, found widespread opposition to the shutdown scheme. Among all Americans, a 71% majority rejected the idea, but just as importantly, a 53% majority of self-identified Republican voters reached the same conclusion.
While the results are interesting, let's also not forget the story behind the story -- this poll was conducted by Boehner's pollster, to better inform congressional Republicans, and then leaked to Byron York, a conservative writer who's widely read in Republican circles.
I mention this because of the larger dynamic. On the one hand, we see Jim DeMint and the Heritage Foundation, along with Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Mike Lee, telling the party, "Don't worry, the shutdown will work out great for us." And on the other, we have Republican leaders quietly whispering, "Don't listen to those guys; they're wrong."
Clearly, there is a group of Americans who would cheer on a shutdown, but the key takeaway here is that Republicans who are pushing this scheme aren't catering to the GOP base; they're catering to a small portion of the GOP base.
Republican campaign strategist Mike Murphy argued this week, "The party is acting as if the entire world is a GOP primary." Shutdown proponents are obviously proving him right.
And just how big is this shutdown caucus? Yesterday, the answer to that question came into focus.
There are currently 233 House Republicans, and about a third of them are on board with the scheme.
The number and names are in: 80 House Republicans representing the most conservative wing of their conference have signed the letter urging leadership to defund Obamacare in any spending bill to float the government past Sept. 30.
The letter, spearheaded by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., doesn't mention "government shutdown," but that's exactly what that strategy would provoke, given that a repeal by any other name is dead on arrival in the Senate and would not be signed by President Barack Obama.
Eighty is very likely a disappointing total for far-right activists -- indeed, it's a smaller total than I expected -- though Heritage is reportedly lobbying on the letter and the total number of signatories is likely to rise, at least a little.