In answer to Jonathan Cohn, the explanation is that the Republicans got high on their own supply. This is mainly a new phenomenon. In the past, the right surely exaggerated the threat of communism, but who would honestly want to live in a communist country? It might sound good on paper, but it never worked well in practice. So, even if the right did convince itself that there were fifth column communists hiding under every desk, they had a point about the lack of freedom and opportunity in communist systems.
What we’re seeing now is different. Whether it’s climate science denialism, anti-Keynesian lunacy, irrational hatred of ObamaCare, the obsession with fake scandals like Fast & Furious, Solyndra, and Benghazi, or the birth certificate fascination, the right is sending out a hydrant of bullshit to their base and then consuming it themselves and actually internalizing it as the truth and then going ahead and believing it.
They opposed ObamaCare, but they would have happily voted for it if Romney had won the 2008 primary and election. They decided to oppose everything Obama wanted to do before he was even inaugurated, and that necessitated that they turn RomneyCare into the second coming of the Bolshevik Revolution. It was a grand exercise in self-delusion, and now they are full and truly deluded. They are basically clinically insane at this point, and they drove themselves crazy.
Look no farther than the debt ceiling for proof of this. If the Republican Party were a person, it would have to be put on a ventilator because it is too brain-damaged to operate its lungs. It literally has lost the ability to make the basic decisions needed to keep this country alive.