It was over. They lost.
On Wednesday, those two ugly facts began to sink in among the United States House's hard-core conservatives. For nearly three years, they had effectively led the House itself -- drawing their power from the intimidating sense they were capable of anything. They often compared themselves to William Wallace, the Scottish rebel who (at least in the movies) succeeded because he refused to compromise.
But then -- just like in the movies -- "Braveheart" died.
On Wednesday, conservatives' frontal attack on U.S. President Obama's signature health-care law had ended after a government shutdown, a major decline in Republican popularity and a final compromise that gave them almost none of what they had wanted.
"We tried," Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) said at a gathering of glum conservatives on Wednesday morning. "We lost."
He continued. It got worse. After the first effort to defund the health-care law, Mulvaney noted, conservatives tried to take away health-care subsidies for members of Congress and their staffs. If Obamacare would survive, then at least the "political class" would not benefit from it, he said. But then -- "We lost that one as well."
"We're all pretty down today," said Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho), sitting on the same dais. Labrador's only hope was that the polls were wrong and the American people had somehow been impressed by all this. "Now they know we're willing to fight," he said.
For House conservatives, Wednesday was a day unlike many others in the giddy period since Republicans took the House in 2010. They had lost all control of the standoff after House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) had failed to find a bill that all Republicans could support.
So the Senate -- led by Democrats -- was supposed to cut the deal instead. And did. The House was expected to pass it, with most Democrats and a few Republicans voting yes.
For House conservatives, at last, there was nothing to do but wait. And then lose.
"He said, 'Y'all need to get some rest. Go home. Sleep. We're going to live to fight another day,'ä " said Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), relaying the message Boehner gave House Republicans in a private meeting Wednesday afternoon.
But before they could go home, there was a vote. And it wasn't supposed to come until the evening. In the meantime, some conservatives filled the empty hours giving tours of the Capitol (since the regular tour guides had been furloughed by the shutdown).
Inside a House hearing room, several members attended a lunch meeting called "Conversations with Conservatives." Over lunch from Chick-fil-A, they pondered what could have gone wrong.
-- Washington Post