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For House Republicans, Zero is the Loneliest Number

Is this really the Associated Press lede that the Republicans wanted?

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a swift victory for President Barack Obama, the Democratic-controlled House approved a historically huge $819 billion stimulus bill Wednesday night with spending increases and tax cuts at the heart of the young administration’s plan to revive a badly ailing economy. The vote was 244-188, with Republicans unanimous in opposition despite Obama’s frequent pleas for bipartisan support.

Zero is sometimes a big number. If the stimulus bill had passed the House today with a handful of Republican votes — six or eight or twelve or twenty — the party would presumably have gotten its point across about the merit of the legislation. But the bill didn’t get a handful of Republican votes — it got none at all. You’d think there would be one Republican out of 178 who found his way to a yes vote based on the particular cadences of his political philosophy and the electoral politics of his district. But there was not.

The question is whether a result like this could have came about by accident — or whether it must have been engineered by the party leadership. I’m not sure that the answer to that is obvious. The House does not cast a secret ballot. It seems plausible that there were a dozen or so Republicans who were on the fence, waiting to see how their colleagues would vote — and when those votes started to come in unanimously against the bill, nobody wanted to be the ugly ducking.

But does it do the party as a whole any good for having opposed the bill unanimously? With headlines like the one in the Associated Press, it’s hard to imagine so. Their unanimous opposition reads as an emphatic rejection of the President and the President’s attempts at “bipartisanship”. And the President is very popular right now.

But — the base is happy, or at least reasonably so. Rush Limbaugh will be singing John Boehner’s praises tomorrow. I’m just not sure what message this sends to the other 78 percent of the country.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.