Dan Drezner suspects "large swathes of the GOP elite simply lack instrumental rationality." My verdict: not quite correct. But not all that wrong, either.
He has two counts against them, so I'll take them one at a time. The first is that now, after Chuck Schumer has declared he'll vote for Chuck Hagel, a GOP-aligned group is organizing to raise money to take Schumer on. Drezner suggests that Hagel's nomination is a sure thing by now, and so "there are at least ten other ways to spend this money that would be more efficient than trying to oppose Hagel right now."
Is that correct? Let's say Schumer's endorsement means that Hagel has won the support of mainstream Democrats. That certainly gives him the 50 votes he'll need in the Senate for confirmation, with Joe Biden breaking a tie; he could afford to lose five Democrats with tough re-election fights as well as all the Republicans.
Except...that doesn't get you to cloture; for that, he'll need all those marginal Democrats, plus five Republicans. Or he'll need Republicans to allow a simple majority confirmation vote without a filibuster. I'm pretty skeptical of these kinds of lobbying campaigns in the first place, but the tactic of elevating this fight doesn't seem irrational at all to me if the goal is pressuring Republicans to filibuster, and marginal Democrats to bail.
That's one way to look at it. Another way is that it's just the donors who are...well, not crazy, but easily duped. Suppose we have a group of wealthy donors who trust GOP elites, but the GOP elites are taking advantage of that trust to funnel lots of money into their operations, much of which winds up in their pockets. So the GOP operatives basically have to rile up the donors periodically, get their cash, turn it into very visible campaigns, and pocket the fees. That's not a breakdown in instrumental rationality; it's a case of party dysfunction, in which the results of everyone following the incentives the system gives them yields results which undermine the party as a whole.
Okay, on to the second one: House Republicans, getting battered by everyone for hostage-taking on the debt limit, appear to be retreating to a plan of passing a short term extension, something like three months. Drezner: "All this does is set up House GOP members to have to vote multiple times to raise the debt ceiling. Why force numerous no-win votes if you can economize on the pain, have one vote early in everyone's term, and then engage in actual budgetary politics?"
Is that the plan, however? More likely, Republicans intend to do what they did with the fiscal cliff: bring it to the floor, but make Democrats supply the votes. They even might go back to what they thought about doing on the cliff vote and split their votes between "no" and "present" so that Democrats have to all vote "yes." And then repeat it and repeat it.
Now, just as with the public campaign against Hagel, there's probably not much difference between attacking a Member of Congress for voting to raise the debt limit vs. voting to raise the debt limit six times! But I'm not sure that's grounds for questioning their ability to reason.
So I'm not fully convinced by either of Drezner's examples. And yet...I'm not totally dismissing it, either. The Bachmann/Gohmert wing of the GOP conference may really be incapable of adding 2 and 2 together. Sticking to these examples...I'm really not sure what a successful filibuster and defeat of Chuck Hagel gets them in terms of policy; the Hagel they are attacking is at least 75% fictional, after all. So at the very least Drezner's point may hold for the donors. On the debt limit: it's not really clear what exactly House Republicans are going to settle on or why, but there do seem to be a lot of Members who believe that holding their breath until they (and the nation) turn blue is a sure-win strategy.
Do I have a larger point? Sure. I'm inclined to think that only a small group, if that, of Republican politicians or other party actors are really nuts in the way that Drezner suggests...but that the party as a whole may have wound up as severely dysfunctional, perhaps in part from incentives introduced by the crazies.