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When will the shutdown end?

Union troops during a re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg in June 2013
Union troops during a re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg in June 2013Getty Images

For much of August and September, the question on the minds of many political observers was pretty straightforward: "Is the government going to shut down?" Over the past several days, the question has instead become "Is the government going to reopen?"

It's tough to guess when this fiasco will end, but this struck me as significant.

The overarching problem for the man at the center of the budget fight, say allies and opponents, is that [House Speaker John Boehner] and his leadership team have no real idea how to resolve the fiscal showdown.

They are only trying to survive another day, Republican strategists say, hoping to maintain unity as long as possible so that when the Republican position collapses, they can capitulate on two issues at once -- financing the government and raising the debt ceiling -- and head off any internal party backlash. Republican lawmakers say Mr. Boehner has assured them privately that he will not permit a default.

Remember, conservatives have been planning this moment for months, preparing for this government shutdown as a key element of a larger strategy. And yet, they now seem hopelessly lost as to why they shut the government down, what they hope to get out of this, and how best to end the debacle in the least humiliating way possible.

Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) said the other day, "I think now it's a lot about pride." And while I suspect that's correct, it's not an especially impressive posture -- congratulations, America, your government is closed and the world is laughing at you, but don't worry, Republicans who created this mess are managing to hold onto what's left of their pride.

Or how about this gem from an unnamed Republican: "I would liken this a little bit to Gettysburg, where a Confederate unit went looking for shoes and stumbled into Union cavalry, and all of a sudden found itself embroiled in battle on a battlefield it didn't intend to be on, and everybody just kept feeding troops into it. That's basically what's happening now in a political sense. This isn't exactly the fight I think Republicans wanted to have, certainly that the leadership wanted to have, but it's the fight that's here."

Feel better?