Every so often, one has to hit a mule with a two-by-four to get its attention, which is pretty much what happened Oct. 10, 2013, when polls by Gallup and the Wall Street Journal/NBC News made clear what nearly everyone seemed to sense had been happening, which was that Sen. Ted Cruz and his ill-conceived defund Obamacare venture was driving his party straight into a wall.

In a matter of days, the Texas Republican had managed to knock 10 points off the favorability ratings of the Republican Party, down to an all-time low of 28 percent, bump up Obama’s four points, to 47 percent, and even make Obamacare somewhat more popular, up eight points to 38 percent in another survey, on the grounds that something he opposed so vehemently could not be as bad as was thought.

Not for nothing did the president’s office send him a $90 fruit basket on Friday, thanking him for all he had done in the Democrats’ service. “A Texas-sized Thank You!” the gift card had stated. “Keep up the good work!”

The “good work” done by Cruz was to drive a wedge between the Tea Party's governing and nihilistic wings, symbolized by the 2009-2010 class of Republican governors, who turn conservative thought into palpable action, and Cruz and former Sen. Jim DeMint, guiding lights of the suicide faction, who focus their rage against other conservatives, while leaving liberals largely alone.

DeMint, who left the Senate to takeover the reins at the Heritage Foundation, is known for saying he would rather have 30 Republican senators who think exactly as he does than 60 who don’t, which thrills his own fans and would lead to extreme and permanent liberal governance, as the 70 liberals in it would be able work their own will.

Every single Republican and/or Tea Party governor (including Rick Perry of Texas, and Wisconsin's Scott Walker, the Tea Party hero who broke his state's unions) was opposed to the government shutdown, and urged conservatives to work across party lines to avoid it.

At the end of the week, Cruz’s favorable numbers nationwide stood at 24 percent and falling, and the Tea Party’s at 21 percent, its all-time low to this date.

At the same time, Tea Party governors, many elected in purple or blue states, are running numbers as high as the mid and high 60’s, while balancing budgets, reining in unions, and making sure taxes stay low.

Republican governors, most of whom seem to be running for president, are running ads railing against “dysfunction in Washington,” triangulating themselves between Cruz and Obama, and indicting the Republicans by implication, if not quite by name.

Thus Cruz, who must know now he will never be president (at least not of this country) is aiming at the more secure niche of wing-nut commander, a role which falls short of the apex of power, but which is rich in financial and psychic rewards.

His sidekick Mike Lee, who is tanking in Utah, will likely go down in flames with him, but the other two who have sometimes stood with them -- Rand Paul and Marco Rubio -- have lately been looking less and less happy, and may be the ones to watch now.

They want to be president, and aren’t nihilists by nature. They also know they can’t win if the establishment hates them, and know Cruz is toxic beyond his own base.

They can act as the bridge between that base and the party, convince it they can bring its concerns to the establishment, which is more likely to listen as they haven’t attacked it, and are on good terms with some of its heads.

If so, they'll do themselves and their party a favor. Can they, and will they? We'll see.

Noemie Emery, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."