December 8, 2010 3:30 a.m.

There was something strange to me about the GOP reaction yesterday to the tax cut news. Or at least something unexpected. I hadn’t made clear sense of it until I got this news late last night, but all day yesterday I couldn’t shake the feeling that the whole didn’t add up. And here’s what I think it is:

How is it that the conservative movement spent two years characterizing Barack Obama as a socialislamokenyan just to the right of Stalin, turning him into a figure so noxious to the GOP base that Republicans only negotiated with him at their peril… and then suddenly, a month after the election, Republican leaders sit down with his administration, and hash out a tax plan and everyone from Olympia Snowe to Mitch McConnell to Paul Ryan walks away celebrating. It doesn’t make sense. Yes, the plan is, on the merits, very friendly to Republican interests, and presages an election year tax fight Republicans seem itching to have. But it’s still the Obama tax cut compromise.

That’s why I think this development could be so portentous.Yesterday, McConnell predicted that the overwhelming majority of Republicans would support the plan, provided the framework doesn’t change much as it winds through the legislative process. McConnell’s a pretty good vote counter, but for the last two years those have almost all been “no” votes. Counting “yes” votes can be a much more difficult enterprise, particularly when the GOP base is so energized and reactionary.

We know Jim DeMint can sway votes if he wants to, and we know that in the past the Club for Growth has made life hell for squishy Republicans. It’s easy to imagine both of them chipping away at McConnell’s majority. Then what will the tea party say? Michele Bachmann’s not a big fan. What about other leaders outside of Congress? It’s not too big a leap to imagine conservative opposition growing, and GOP support swiftly eroding, with more and more members awakening to the wrath and the threats of the conservative base.

Dave Weigel objects over Twitter that the Club for Growth just lost a big fight to prevent Harold Rogers from taking over the Appropriations Committee. It’s a good observation. But those sorts of intramural battles are walled off from outside pressure in a way that public votes on public policy simply are not. That’s why even Democratic aides are concerned about this.

If this turns into a vote counting problem for McConnell, a whole new set of pressures and incentives take hold and god knows where that ends.

I’m not saying it’ll happen. It genuinely is a pretty good deal for the GOP. But keep an eye on it.

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