Senators Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio insist they will fund the government only if it defunds the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But here’s the thing: They know their gambit won’t work. Defunding ObamaCare while Republicans control just one half of one third of the federal government is a pipe dream. What we need to understand, then, is that in this instance victory is beside the point. There’s no realistic legislative method that Republicans have that is capable of defunding the ACA. The fight is what matters.

What Lee & Co. are arguing is that the ACA is so awful that Republicans have an obligation to exhaust every possible avenue, even if they’re likely to fail. And so you hear a lot about the need to “draw a line in the sand,” about how they want to be able to return to their home states to say they’ve done everything humanly possible to defund ObamaCare, and how Real Men aren’t part of a “surrender caucus.” Sure, they may not succeed in their efforts–but at least they tried. And that’s what matters. If they fall short, at least they’ll have done so with a clear conscience, while daring greatly, with their face marred by dust and sweat and blood. Which is better than those cold and timid souls who oppose them. 

This attitude, while a bit too melodramatic for my taste, might be tolerable if there was no downside to failure. The problem is that on the matter of defunding the Affordable Care Act, there is. If Republicans pushed forward on this strategy and it failed–as it surely would–it’s quite likely that it would revivify the Obama presidency and damage the conservative cause.

It just doesn’t make sense to insist on a goal (defunding the Affordable Care Act) that you know in advance is unattainable. And you don’t issue a threat (we will keep the federal government shut down unless and until ObamaCare is defunded) that in the end you can’t deliver on–and which your opponents know you can’t deliver on. That lesson seems to have been lost on Messrs. Lee, Cruz, Paul, and Rubio. Thankfully it hasn’t been lost on their colleagues, who have no interest in joining the Suicide Caucus. 

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