The Incoherency of Republican Obamacare Tactics

Greg Sargent has a smart post today that steps back from the current Obamacare fights and looks at what happens to the GOP if the law succeeds:

All of which is to say, again, that all that really matters in the long run is whether the policy works.

Republicans will have spent weeks expressing outrage on behalf of Americans who have been unable to tap into the benefits of Obamacare because of administration incompetence, and on behalf of people who are “losing” coverage because of outrageous liberal Big Government overreach. At that point, though, the web site will be working, and untold numbers of people will be shopping for real, tangible plans. Many on the individual market will find plans that are better, and potentially even cheaper overall — whether because of subsidies, or because the plans don’t disguise their true long term cost, as the current, crappy ones do – than their previous ones. None of this is a given, obviously; again, it all turns on whether the law works.

But if it does, what is the Republican argument at that point? Continue to push for full repeal, which would wipe away the benefits that these Americans — the very same people Republicans were professing to speak for in expressing outrage over the web site — are now enjoying?

This problem has always existed for the GOP. They have spent the past three years doing everything they possibly could to stop Obamacare. They took it to the Supreme Court. They made it the focal point of the 2012 election. They risked an international financial crisis, shutdown the government and sent their poll numbers to historic lows, all in the name of blocking Obamacare. It’s been more than a policy goal for Republicans. It’s been everything the party has worked for since the law passed.

But what happens if they’re wrong? What happens if the law is a success and millions of Americans love shopping on the exchanges and picking a new plan? Obviously, this outcome would be disastrous for the Republican party, but even if the law fails, the GOP has been betting for a while that it will be disastrous for their party as well.

Think about it. Why did Cruz & Co. shut down the government over Obamacare? Because they thought it was their last chance to stop the law. There has always been a contradiction here though. If they thought the law was going to fail so badly, why not just wait until it took effect and then use it to win elections? After all, if it was going to be such a disaster, surely that would reap political benefits for the GOP. The problem is, they argued, that once the law takes effect, it will be tough to stop. Whether or not it succeeds on policy grounds, it will succeed politically as it grows a new base of support. This is the GOP position. The law is going to fail, but it will still be a political success so we must do everything in our power to stop it before it takes effect.

If the Republicans are right about this, then their last hope is that fails. Otherwise, no matter if Obamacare succeeds or fails on policy grounds, it will succeed politically. At least that was the reasoning behind the entire shutdown. In addition, it is still likely that the administration gets the exchange up and running in time so that Americans can purchase health insurance on it. If Republicans believe that too, then they have already lost. The law will take effect January 1st and it will be impossible to stop due to the political support behind it.

This is what is so incoherent about their argument. Based on their actions, the Republican Party expects Obamacare to succeed politically and fail on policy-grounds. But no matter what, that’s a failing political argument. Yet, at the same time, they are pushing that argument harder than ever by vehemently denouncing Obamacare’s “rate shock” and plan cancellations. They expect the law to succeed politically, but are hoping that they’re wrong. The contradictions within this strategy seem to multiply by the day and the overarching theme is one of desperation. Cruz & Co. are so worried about the law’s political success that they are frantically trying to secure a base of opposition to it. But if they are right that the law will succeed politically, then their current tactics are only going to make the political backlash that much worse.


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