What if Republicans — in their drive to repeal and even defund Obamacare — are making the same mistake they made in 2012 about the economy?

Last year, Republicans gambled that high public dissatisfaction with Obama’s economic performance meant majorities had concluded that the President had been an abject failure, meaning there was simply no chance he’d be reelected. Instead, exit polls suggested voters didn’t hold Obama to blame for the economy in high enough numbers to ensure his defeat. One possible explanation — advanced by Ron Brownstein, yours truly and others — is that despite their disappointment, they found the sluggishness of the recovery understandable, given the circumstances, and saw the election as a nuanced choice between sticking with a disappointing status quo and a worse alternative. Republicans appeared caught off guard by this.

A similar miscalculation may be guiding the current GOP drive to repeal Obamacare — and the conservative drive to shut down the government to force its defunding.

For a long time now, the polling on Obamacare has shown a pattern. Disapproval of the law runs high, and polls that offer respondents a straight choice between repeal and keeping the law as is find high support for repeal. But polls that offer a more nuanced range of options — such as changing the law or repealing parts of it — find only minority support for the GOP position of full repeal. This pattern has been clear for years now. Meanwhile, polls that ask directly whether Republicans should keep blocking the law find majority opposition to that.

It seems reasonable to surmise that dissatisfaction with the law may not necessarily translate into broad support for getting rid of it entirely (let alone replacing it with nothing). As in 2012, voters may be taking a longer, more nuanced view than Republicans think.

Today’s GOP, however, is flirting with something even more extreme than endless repeal votes: shutting down the government to force the defunding of Obamacare. And David Drucker reports this morning that even a poll commissioned by a Tea Party group finds that Republicans will bear more of the blame for a shutdown than Obama will. As Drucker concludes, “a solid majority of voters oppose the Affordable Care Act” and are “nervous about implementation,” but it’s not clear that this translates “into support for a plan to shut down the government.”

In 2012, GOP strategy was largely shaped by a cartoonish right wing view of Obama’s first term — he was such an obvious catastrophe that of course voters would throw him out at their first chance. Moderates and swing voters disagreed. What if the current GOP drive to repeal Obamacare — and, worse, the conservative drive to shut down the government over it — are grounded in a similar miscalculation, i.e., the notion that the law is such an obvious catastrophe that of course voters will support whatever means are necessary to destroy it?

* REPUBLICANS UNDER PRESSURE TO SUPPORT SHUTDOWN: An emerging pattern worth watching. Mitch McConnell is under pressure from his Tea Party challenger to say whether he supports a government shutdown to defund Obamacare. So is Tom Cotton, the newly minted GOP Senate candidate in Arkansas, whose spokesperson is resisting demands for clarification of his stand on the Tea Party push for a shutdown confrontation, though he seems to be leaning towards it.

As noted here yesterday, there’s a new Tea Party standard: if you don’t fully support the push to defund Obamacare — including embracing a government shutdown to force it — your opposition to the law is now suspect.

* MCCONNELL IN TEA PARTY CROSSHAIRS: This, from the Hill, is striking:

Senate conservatives are increasing pressure on Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to use the threat of a government shutdown to defund ObamaCare. Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are spearheading the effort to build a “grassroots army” to influence GOP leadership after entreaties to their colleagues fell short.

McConnell’s position on whether to force a shutdown remains unclear.

* MITT ROMNEY WARNS AGAINST SHUTDOWN: The former GOP presidential nominee chooses to reenter the political debate by striding on to a minefield:

“I badly want Obamacare to go away, and stripping it of funds has appeal. But we need to exercise great care about any talk of shutting down government. What would come next?” Romney warned of soldiers not being paid, seniors fearing their Medicare and Social Security checks might stop, and FBI agents being forced off duty.

Good for Romney, but I fear the odds of a shutdown have just increased dramatically…

* GOP SENATOR TO (GASP!) HELP WITH OBAMACARE IMPLEMENTATION: David Vitter, of all people, says the right thing:

QUESTION: Is your office going to help constituents who might simply want to buy insurance?

VITTER: Well, we’re helping folks in any way we can trying to get them good information… We field calls every day in my offices in Louisiana trying to help people with individual questions and circumstances and I would encourage folks to call my office to get that guidance and help.

As noted here the other day, GOP lawmakers may well find themselves the focus of scrutiny on this question when the exchanges go live.

* CONSERVATIVES THREATEN MASSIVE BACKLASH ON IMMIGRATION: The New York Times has a big, must-read profile of D.A. King, an organizer of national conservative opposition to immigration reform, who is pushing a simple message: Any GOP Congressman who votes for “amnesty” will pay a dire price among conservative voters. This tidbit is interesting:

One worrisome sign for Mr. King is that his donations are not increasing.

What if the promised conservative backlash never materializes?

 * DURBIN’S CRUSADE AGAINST “STAND YOUR GROUND” LAWS: In an interesting move, Dick Durbin has sent a letter to more than 300 companies thought to have contributed to the right wing American Legislative Exchange Council, asking them if they support the group’s push for “stand your ground” laws across the country. It’s unclear whether companies will respond, but this could focus attention on the profusion of these laws in the run-up to a planned Senate hearing on them.

* AND TODAY’S PLUM READS:

James Traub on why the Tea Party is heading the way of the Federalists, thanks to its inability to accept, or even acknowledge, the unstoppably changing face of the country.

Steve Benen gets this exactly right: The GOP has created an anti-Obamacare Frankenstein that it is now struggling to control.

Sean Trende’s deep dive into why newly minted conservative hero Tom Cotton has a slight edge against Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor.

Paul Krugman on what’s really holding back the recovery, and why it doesn’t have anything to do with Obama-created “uncertainty,” as the right wing mythology has it.

Matt Lewis on why “libertarian populism,” the latest effort at GOP ideological repositioning, won’t save the party.

Philip Klein tries to talk fellow conservatives down from the “defund Obamacare” ledge.

 

 

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.