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Anne Applebaum writes today about the Senate election in Alaska, which pitted a tea partier who refused to endorse actual spending cuts against an old-style pol who bragged about bringing home the bacon. It highlighted the Republican Party’s root problem in all its squalid glory, and the winner, as we all know, was Lisa Murkowski, the old pol:

When offered a direct choice, in other words, the majority of Alaskans chose the corrupt, big-spending Republican Party of Murkowski over the shallow, hypocritical radicalism of [Joe] Miller.

If nothing else, Alaskans’ interesting choice must be keeping the Republican leadership awake at night: When faced with the reality of actual funding cuts, a year or two from now, might not other Republican voters suddenly feel they need someone like Murkowski, too? This must be a particular dilemma for the new Republican speaker, John Boehner….Poor Boehner must feel pulled in two directions, particularly because so many Republicans — and so many Americans — don’t practice what they preach. They want lower taxes, higher defense spending, more Social Security and, yes, balanced budgets. They want the government to leave them alone, but at the same time they aren’t averse to the odd federal subsidy. They like the way Miller talks, but, in the end, will they vote for Murkowski?

Answer: they’ll vote for the Murkowskis of the world. Even the tea partiers will vote for the Murkowskis if the alternative is losing spending they care about. And that’s the only spending that matters since there isn’t enough spending they don’t care about to make even a dent in the federal budget deficit. Boehner, I assure you, knows this perfectly well. There aren’t too many ways to square this circle, so the smart money says the next couple of years are going to be full of fireworks, most of them very carefully designed to obscure the fact that Republicans aren’t really serious about trying to cut much of anything. It should be very productive.

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