The whole fiscal cliff debacle has been a bitter pill for the GOP and conservatives -- in my view, mishandled from the get-go (i.e., from the original flawed negotiation over the debt ceiling that led to this final showdown). A few observations:
1. Obama's apogee: No doubt the President and fellow lefties are enjoying the spectacle of Republican infighting, along with the fact that they forced the GOP to break its no-tax pledge. But keep in mind that it will probably never get better for the President then it is right now. In truth, this awful situation was pretty much baked in the cake for the GOP when Obama was reelected and the Democrats held the Senate -- given that the original "cliff" negotiations (back last summer) created a divisive and unetenable choice between raising taxes on some and raising taxes on all once Dems triumphed on election day. Thus it would have been irresponsible not to vote for this stinker of a bill; had it failed and the US gone off the cliff -- with the GOP having forced tax increases for all and plunging the US into recession in the name of not raising rates at all -- teh Republican brand would have been seriously damaged.
Keep in mind that from now on, the GOP isn't hamstrung by such a choice; the public largely perceives the President as having "gotten his way." And it's worth noting that the President is the one who actually held the middle class hostage -- not only for tax increases, but for tax increases in the form that he demanded them (i.e., in the form of higher rates on "the rich" rather than loophole closing).
2. A silver lining: The Republicans ought endlessly to point out that the President has, indeed, gotten his way -- he has attained his long-sought goal of raising taxes on "the rich." By his formulation, the US's economic problems should be solved. When they're not (because 100% confiscation of all assets of "the rich" won't solve our fiscal problems), it will put the lie to Obama's implicit claim that raising taxes on the rich will fix the economy. The Democrats will then be the ones with the Hobson's choice of either calling for across-the-board tax increases or else cutting entitlements.
3. Going forward: It's possible that Republicans will be able to perform better on the upcoming debt ceiling negotiation. But that's true only if they start setting the table for those discussions -- which must include a serious discussion of entitlement reform -- now. Americans don't understand the severity of the problem because the press and punditocracy overestimates public knowledge (and sometimes, lack such knowledge themselves) about what the future holds if our fiscal woes aren't addressed. The fact --the fact -- is that the US can neither remain a dominant power in the world nor secure the future economic and military security of its citizens without meaningful measures now.
4. The media: As Robert Samuelson notes, its manifest failure to report honestly on the Obama-GOP confrontations makes the serious negotations needed to preserve our way of life increasingly difficult. That's because it makes it too easy for the Democrats to reap short-term political advantage (by demonizing Republicans and dodging the hard but necessary issues) at the cost of the long-term national interest.