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GOP struggles to contain monster they created

When it comes to Republican threats to shut down the government over funding for the federal health care system, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has adopted a you're

When it comes to Republican threats to shut down the government over funding for the federal health care system, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has adopted a you're-either-with-us-or-you're-against-us attitude: "All I'm saying is that you cannot say you are against Obamacare if you are willing to vote for a law that funds it. If you're willing to fund this thing, you can't possibly say you're against it."

It's a sentiment the GOP base has embraced with great enthusiasm.

In this clip, we see Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) pressed by a constituent at a town-hall meeting on whether the congressman will go along with the far-right scheme to shut down the government in the hopes of defunding the Affordable Care Act. "Do you want the thoughtful answer?" Pittenger asked. The voter replied, "I want yes or no."

The answer, of course, was "no." The North Carolina Republican considers himself a fierce opponent of "Obamacare," but nevertheless sees the shutdown threat as unrealistic. Indeed, Pittenger tried to explain why the tactic would fail in light of the Democratic White House and Democratic majority in the Senate, but the angry activists didn't care.

"It doesn't matter," one voter is heard saying. "We need to show the American people we stand for conservative values," said another.

The clip was posted to a Tea Party website called "Constitutional War."

Keep in mind, Pittenger is not exactly a Rockefeller Republican from New England. As Greg Sargent reported yesterday, the congressman is a red-state conservative who's not only voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but has co-sponsored a dozen or so bills to destroy all or part of the current federal health care system.

But as far as some Tea Partiers are concerned, Pittenger and other conservative Republicans who see the shutdown strategy as folly are suddenly the enemy.

It appears that Republican officials have created a monster, and like Frankenstein, they aren't altogether pleased with the results.

For the last few years, GOP lawmakers have said, repeatedly, that the base should rally behind Republicans as they valiantly try to tear down the federal health care system and take access to basic care away from millions. And by and large, Tea Partiers and other elements of the party's base cheered them on.

The scheme was, for the most part, a rather cruel con -- Republicans almost certainly realized that their last chance to repeal "Obamacare" was the 2012 presidential election, which they lost badly. But they kept fanning the flames anyway, telling right-wing activists to keep fighting -- and more importantly, keep writing checks.

Party leaders may have winked and nodded to one another, realizing that they'd never be able to fulfill their dream of heath care destruction, but therein lies the problem: conservative activists thought the party was serious, and saw neither the winks nor the nods.

The result, as Robert Pittenger noticed in North Carolina, isn't pretty. The GOP base seems to be waking up and saying, "What do you mean you're not willing to shut down the government over Obamacare funding? If Rubio, Cruz, and Lee have a plan, why are you betraying us by rejecting their idea?"

Republicans had an opportunity after the 2012 elections to shift gears. Party leaders could have subtly and understandably made clear that the repeal crusade had fallen short, and the GOP would have to begin focusing on other fights.

But the party did the opposite, telling easily fooled donors supporters that this was a fight Republicans could win. Now the GOP finds itself stuck in a hole they dug for themselves. Republicans were gleeful when the August recess meant Democrats getting yelled at over health care; they may be less pleased when they're on the receiving end of right-wing ire.