Last March, GOP leaders autopsied their '12 electoral loss and warned in a 100-page report that the party is "driving around in an ideological cul de sac" and "increasingly marginalizing itself." To compete effectively on the national map, the party "needs to grow its membership and broaden its base." And that effort must begin immediately because "public perception of the party is at record lows."

Seven months later, how's that effort working out?

The public perception of the party is at lower record lows. Thanks to its shutdown/debt default lunacy, the party has marginalized itself even further, alienating the public even more. This is what happens when a party turns a deaf ear to itself, and caves to its own extremists. As I mentioned here yesterday, Gallup is reporting the lowest GOP popularity numbers since 1992.

And now comes the bipartisan NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey, jointly conducted by Democratic pollster Peter Hart and Republican pollster Bill McInturff. The public's verdict on the GOP can be summarized in three words:

Brutal. Just brutal.

No wonder the Republicans are starting to sue for peace. That's what losers do. The fantasy of killing Obamacare by crashing the government is basically dead. Instead, the saboteurs are currently looking for something, anything, that might pass muster with President Obama and help extricate them from their ill-fated drive around the ideological cul de sac.

The Hart-McInturff highlights: By a whopping 22-point margin (53 percent to 31 percent), the public blames the Republicans, not Obama, for the shutdown. That's way worse than the party's losing spread in the '95 shutdown confrontation with Bill Clinton. And only 24 percent of Americans currently have a thumbs-up opinion about the GOP - the lowest ever recorded in this bipartisan poll.

By contrast, Obama's popularity has risen during the shutdown (to 47 percent, two points higher than pre-shutdown) -  and Obamacare's popularity has risen during the shutdown (by seven points). Nice work, Republican extremists, way to sully the party brand - because the public is increasingly concluding that if the toxic GOP is against the health reform law, then the health reform law must be OK.

McInturff, the Republican pollster, ran the numbers yesterday and admitted, "This is an ideological boomerang...There is a break against the Republican position."

Elsewhere in GOP world, Obama-haters are fleeing the wreckage. Conservative commentator Reihan Salam, who writes the domestic-policy blog at the National Review, laments that the GOP, far from broadening its base (as urged by the autopsy report), is instead shrinking even further, down to what he calls a small core of "residual Republicans." All told, "we're dealing with something akin to a death spiral."

And the influential conservative website Powerline now calls the shutdown "a terrible, suicidal decision...a disastrous failure." Indeed, the website says, "as of two or three weeks ago, there was close to zero chance of the Democrats re-taking the House (in 2014), and most observers thought the Republicans had a good opportunity to pick up the six seats they need to control the Senate. The GOP may have blown that chance on account of the shutdown disaster, and when the dust settles, it may be that the Democrats have a realistic shot at taking the House."

And so predictable. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of politics - a minority of a minority in one legislative chamber can't outfight a president who handily won re-election - knew that the GOP would wind up the loser in a shutdown showdown. Indeed, the smartest conservatives knew it, and warned against it. Here's what Ramesh Ponnuru wrote in the National Review back in July:

"People (would) be naturally inclined to assume that the more anti-government party must be responsible...While Democrats would stay unified, Republicans would fracture as their standing in the polls dropped and negative news coverage continued. When they inevitably lost the fight, they would be more divided, unpopular and demoralized than before, and the cause of repealing Obamacare would look more like the hobbyhorse of incompetent fanatics."

Lo and behold, here we are.

The big question now is whether the saner congressional Republicans can staunch the political hemorrhaging, escape their ideological cul de sac, get a face-saving budget deal with Obama, and - once and for all - safeguard the party's future by subsuming their incompetent fanatics.

If they fail in those tasks - especially the latter - their next autopsy report will be even grimmer. As the Bible warns, "for whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

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