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“The American people rejected the government shutdown as irresponsible,” Mr. Gilmore said. “The need to climb back out of the hole Cruz and Paul put us in is the direct reason the GOP leadership postponed the substantive debate over the future of the nation.”

But Mr. Gilmore also said the less-confrontational approach of the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill “has pushed off the debate over the nation’s future until after the 2014 elections.”

He cited in particular the compromise spending plan fashioned by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, that conservatives have roundly criticized.

But to former Iowa Republican Party Chairman Kayne Robinson, Mr. Gilmore’s claim that the government shutdown bloodied Republican noses misses the point.

“When a few Republicans like Cruz and Paul try to stop the march to socialized medicine, whether likely to succeed or not, at least they are lighting up the enemy and rallying the troops,” said Mr. Robinson. “The result is a few leaders and ex-presidential candidates, apparently sore because they are off the air, attack those who are at least trying. The national media, of course, put ex-leaders back on the air.”

At what is expected to be a raucous CPAC, the thermometer-thermostat tensions are likely to be on full display for the national media.

Despite the spotlight, Republicans like Iowa’s Mr. Robinson insist that compromise on principles is a misguided strategy and that those who stand up for the party’s values are unfairly maligned.

Ordinary Republicans “watch with a disbelief that turns to disdain as establishment Republicans try to personally destroy conservatives like Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Steve King and Rand Paul for criticizing that same establishment,” he said.

Norquist shifts

Making the CPAC gathering even more intriguing is that Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, normally a thermostat Republican and feared enforcer of the party’s no-tax pledge has come down strongly with the Senate GOP leadership in the shutdown debate.

Mr. Cruz “said he would deliver Democratic votes and he didn’t. He pushed House Republicans into traffic and wandered off,” Mr. Norquist said.

More recently, Mr. McConnell’s allies hammered Mr. Cruz for seeking a filibuster on a “clean” bill to raise the federal debt ceiling, without extracting a single spending cut from Mr. Obama. The parliamentary move forced Mr. McConnell, Mr. Cornyn and a handful of other Republican senators to cast politically damaging votes to shut off debate, even though all 45 Republican senators voted against the measure to raise the debt ceiling.

An unrepentant Mr. Cruz said he had made his point that compromising with Democrats by giving everything they want is not what people sent Republicans to Washington to do.

“Just about every American understands that we can’t keep going the way we’re going. We’re bankrupting the country. It’s irresponsible,” he said. “Today was a classic victory for Washington establishment interests, and the people who lost today are the American people.”

What most bugs thermostat Republicans is that their party seems to have a fatally steep learning curve.

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