“What did Republicans get for 16 days of a government shutdown with people being hurt?  We have absolutely nothing to show for it, other than a damaged brand.”  This is how second-term Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) described the events of October.  And the young Tea Partier is right.  Polls show that eight in ten Americans disapprove of the shutdown, and a majority lays the blame at the feet of the GOP.

The story of the debacle is a Stupid Party classic.  The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or “ObamaCare”) was signed into law in March 2010.  Most of the major provisions go into effect in January 2014; however, the health-insurance exchange provision was slated to begin on October 1.  The exchanges are essentially an online marketplace for health insurance where consumers can calculate costs and compare coverage options.

According to GOP rhetoric, the implementation of the exchanges marked a point of no return.  Text messages went out from activists claiming that, if the exchanges went forward, the American Republic would be lost.

Conveniently, the federal government’s budget calendar begins on October 1, and before that date some appropriations measure needed to be passed to fund federal agencies and programs for the upcoming fiscal year.  Hence, the GOP hatched a plan to pass a continuing resolution that would fund only non-PPACA expenditures.  A major problem with this plan was that the GOP controlled only one branch of the legislature—both the Senate and the President refused to accept any resolution or bill that omitted monies for the PPACA.  Republicans figured that, in order to avert a government shutdown, President Obama and the Senate would scurry to the bargaining table to ax or restructure the very program the President sees as his legacy.

One can certainly dispute the prudence of ObamaCare.  Nonetheless, the fact remains that it did pass Congress and was signed into law.  It also survived a legal challenge when Chief Justice John Roberts cast the deciding vote to uphold the law in the Supreme Court.  After the PPACA cleared the hurdles of the legislative process and judicial review, could any sane person really believe that President Obama would approach a fractured House majority, hat in hand?

When Obama and the Senate refused to blink, the Republicans fell into disarray.  “You see people sort of stumbling around,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich observed.  “There is no grand strategy here.”  Shutting down the government never had a chance of undermining the dreaded health-insurance exchanges: They rolled out on October 1 as planned.  Granted, there were myriad “glitches” with the exchanges, but the chaos in Congress took the public’s eyes off problems that an effective leadership could have used to undermine the people’s confidence in ObamaCare.  Instead, the people focused on the GOP moving its phantom armies around on the battlefield while the Democrats waited calmly for the Republican ploys to fail.

Sadly, even the architects of the GOP’s strategy knew that it never had a chance.  Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham, a chief architect of the plan to defund the PPACA, told FOX News that a shutdown was necessary to stop the march toward the ruin of our healthcare system.  But in the same interview he admitted that “everybody knows that we’re not going to be able to repeal this law until 2017, and that we have to win the Senate and the White House.”  In other words, going into the budget impasse, the Republicans knew that the only real way to undo the PPACA and to control the debt ceiling would be to win elections.  This requires putting forth a coherent agenda that takes seriously Middle American concerns about immigration, entitlements, and an interventionist foreign policy.

That is something the Republicans have refused to do.

The GOP’s stated desire to rid the country of ObamaCare is laudable.  The PPACA will push the national debt ever higher and will likely lead to some sort of system of socialized medicine.  But before launching a plan to undo ObamaCare, the Republicans needed to propose a measure to repeal it that had a credible chance of success, or at least to turn public opinion against the administration.

Needham admitted the futility of the Republican strategy, and the lasting images from the shutdown are of busloads of veterans pushing through barricades to visit closed monuments on the National Mall.  Republicans have all but guaranteed substantial Democratic gains in the 2014 elections and, perhaps, beyond.

The only bright side from the October madness is an accelerated GOP implosion that might allow for the formation of a new political party that would dare to address structural problems in our government and to think through political schemes before betting the farm on a 2-7 off-suit.