GOP lemmings — in their suicide vests

When you write a column, you hear from people who think they have a clever magic-wand solution to intractable political issues. Washington has run up $17 trillion of debt? Pass term limits. Throw the bums out. Take away their pensions.

Sure, these ideas sound as if they might help, and it must feel good to propose something, but they ignore the entrenched forces that created these morasses in the first place. In a swamp that requires hard-nosed solutions, these folks instead have faith in what is known in political parlance as “shiny objects.”

The shiny-object-mongers have taken over the House GOP caucus. They think that gimmicks can overcome basic math and that with the right tactic, they can win a political battle without controlling either the White House or the Senate.

They repeatedly have tried to defund Obamacare; they repeatedly haven’t had the votes in the Senate. Then they added defunding Obamacare to a bill to keep the government running; they still didn’t have the votes in the Senate. Then they stuck a one-year delay of Obamacare’s individual mandate on the spending continuing resolution. Guess what. They didn’t have the votes in the Senate.

These antics did win House Republicans a government shutdown. Too bad; the “Republican shutdown” is what President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders wanted all along. GOP dysfunction is their shiny object that distracts voters from their inability to fix the U.S. economy.

Now, for the GOP House, it’s all about face saving and stunts. House Speaker John Boehner keeps tossing out piecemeal funding bills to garner headlines, for example, about Democrats rejecting funding for veterans.

Some GOP solons are urging party leaders to hang on for a face-saving win. Get Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to agree on a spending bill that includes a provision to delay the individual mandate or Obamacare’s ill-conceived medical device tax.

There are two problems with that approach. First, though Democrats should be interested in compromise, they’re not. “For years, the president has said that in a divided government, no one gets 100 percent of what they want,” Boehner complained in USA Today. “But when will his words match his actions?” The answer: not when he’s getting what he wants.

But also, delaying the worst parts of Obamacare only helps Obamacare. That’s why the president delayed the employer mandate and other provisions in his signature legislation. Republicans shouldn’t help the Affordable Care Act by kicking its shortcomings down the road.

There’s no covering up the fact that the tea party already has lost. When solid conservatives such as Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., say the shutdown is suicidal — he called the shutdown crowd “lemmings with suicide vests” — it’s over.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., warned that the shutdown would lead GOP acolytes into a “box canyon.” Republicans know what happened and who led them into a trap.

Savvy Republicans know that the best way to defeat the Affordable Care Act is to leave it alone and let it fall from its own weight.

Smart partisans know when to pick their battles.

Email Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@sfchronicle.com

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