Political machines provide an X-ray view of the give and take between voters, candidates, officeholders, and political parties. The best thing ever written about political machines is Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago by Mike Royko.
In Chicago, circa 1955, Richard J. Daley's Democratic machine made a fairly explicit deal with the (white) people of Chicago: votes were exchanged for "walking around" money and patronage jobs. How did the voters know the deal? "Democrat" was a brand name that you could trust.
At a national level in 2013, the branding is more complicated than a base exchange of votes for jobs. The party brand communicates both a set of policy goals and an ideological framework. Our trust in the brand is determined, in part, by how well elected party members do at turning the advertised goals into laws.
If, say, "The Midas Party" brands itself as a group of candidates who will turn lead into gold, they might do alright in an election or two. But when, cycle after cycle, voters are left with the same pile of poisonous metal, the Midas Party will cease to be. Would a party in 2013 promise successful alchemy?
Yes. The GOP is determined to brand itself in way it can only live up to by developing magic powers. If, on the other hand, the laws of logic and nature persist, GOP voters are looking at a lot of lead. Here's Jonathan Chait describing the lead into gold strategy:
Byron York recently traveled with Ted Cruz to New Hampshire and identified the core of his appeal to the party base: He appeals to the belief among conservatives that the congressional party keeps selling out to Obama. Cruz offers them the promise of a politician who will “stand up against not only Barack Obama but against all those old, entrenched Republicans who aren’t up for the fight.”
York’s story does not contain any examples of issues where Republican leaders in Congress have sold out conservatives to go along with Obama, because no such examples exist. But what looks from the outside like a record of perfect obstruction, from stimulus to health care to the Grand Bargain, looks on the inside like a record of appeasement and surrender.
The whole dialog between voters and candidate takes place in cloud cuckoo land. Cruz is defining success in absurd terms that can't possibly come true. The logical space where Cruz is more obstructive does not exist. There is no less there, there. This is how the party dies.