August 12, 2013

At first it looked as if one of the more absurd claims voiced by some on the right — that Obama is the one who really wants to shut down the government over the health law — would remain insulated inside the comfortable confines of the conservative entertainment complex, undisturbed by too much outside scrutiny. But now leading Republican officials are giving voice to it on national television, signaling that this is effectively official party-wide messaging — and the results are not pretty.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus made this argument on CNN’s State of the Union yesterday. After CNN’s Candy Crowley pointed out some Republicans are challenging the conservative demand for a government shutdown confrontation to force the defunding of Obamacare, Priebus actually responded:

“I think all Republicans are unified on one thing and that is defunding, delaying, getting rid of, eliminating Obamacare. So we have total unanimity on that issue and the question is what are the tactics? And you know, even if you take the position of a Ted Cruz or Mike Lee, basically what they’re saying is we actually are funding 100 percent of the government except for that small percentage of nondiscretionary — excuse me, discretionary funding the Obamacare.

“So Mr. President, if you want to shut the government down because you want to continue to fund this monstrosity that you’ve already admit is half broken, then go ahead. I mean the fact that it’s on the Republican Party I just think is spin from the Democratic Party that you ought not be adopting. I don’t know why you’re adopting that spin.”

The claim that Republicans remain “united” behind the “defunding” of Obamacare is a pretty creative one, given that a host of leading GOP officials have denounced the push for a shutdown as crazy. But Priebus’ comments are noteworthy beyond their low-comedy entertainment value. They capture something important about the GOP’s broader posture on Obamacare and what it means for the fall’s budget fights.

In a sense it’s not surprising that Republican officials have effortlessly internalized the framing of the coming Obamacare/government shutdown Priebus adopts above. Thanks partly to the GOP leadership’s willingness to lavish years of care and feeding on the base’s preoccupation with Obamacare repeal, large swaths of the party’s base appear to remain convinced that the law is entirely illegitimate and that they need not accept that the law is here to stay. It’s easy to get from here to the conclusion that Obama will be to blame for any catastrophic consequences that flow from the continued showdown over Obamacare; after all, this whole situation was created by Obama’s initial exercise of tyranny (Dems rammed the law through!!!)  and is now being perpetuated by his continued tyrannical resistance to undoing it in the face of the popular will. (Republican leaders regularly mislead the base by conflating of disapproval of the law with support for full repeal, a claim that is not backed by the evidence; indeed a majority of Americans wants Republicans to stop blocking the law, even though a plurality disapproves of it.)

The trouble is that conservatives also appear to be persuading the base that, since the window to do away with the law is closing fast, anything short of the most aggressive tactics — such as a shutdown threat — constitute insufficient opposition to the law. This has divided the GOP between those who cynically gain from keeping alive the notion that a final, Apocalyptic showdown over Obamacare remains a realistic goal and those elites who know a shutdown fight is insanely dangerous to the GOP. Faced with this problem, Priebus needs to paper over it by claiming the party is united behind the general goal of defunding the law, while simultaneously trying to mitigate the damage the shutdown chatter risks doing to his party by blaming the looming confrontation on Obama. The result is a holding pattern in which the basic tension over whether to accept that Obamacare is the law of the land — and whether to level with the base about it — remains unresolved.

 * GOP MODERATES PUSH BACK ON TEA PARTY SPENDING CUTS: The Associated Press has a good overview of divisions among Republicans over whether deep spending cuts are sustainable or practical. This reference to the recent transportation bill fiasco in the House is key:

“When it came time for the general (Republican) conference to affirm the Ryan budget in the form of 12 appropriations bills, the conference balked,” said Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga. “We need to regroup and say, ‘OK, was your vote for the Ryan budget a serious vote or was that just some political fluke that you don’t intend to follow up on?’”

The Ryan blueprint’s vow to wipe out the deficit in 10 years with no new revenues, was always a pipe dream. Good to see reality setting in…

* KEEP YOUR EYE ON GEORGIA SENATE RACE: The Hill reports that Republicans are increasingly concerned that one of the more conservative Republicans vying for the nomination could end up being the nominee for Senate in Georgia. If Dems do manage to snatch the seat with Dem Michelle Nunn, it will mean Republicans need to knock off four Dem incumbents to control the Senate. And that’s if Dems don’t defeat Mitch McConnell (which remains a tall order, but not impossible).

* WILL IMMIGRATION DEBATE RESONATE IN SENATE BATTLE? Also in the above story, a crucial point: Rep. Broun is a die-hard anti immigration reform crusader, which could push the GOP field to the right and imperil GOP chances, given the shifting demographics in the state. As a Georgia GOP strategist who advised Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign put it: “Georgia is changing, and the further you go to the right in the primary, the more difficult that becomes in the general.”

* GOP WARY OF RIGHT WING IN SENATE BATTLE: Relatedly, Buzzfeed details the challenge Republicans face in Senate races as they seek to keep conservative activists happy while also trying to recruit candidates that are electable. GOP strategist Ron Bonjean sums it up:

“They have to back their incumbents and at the same time, tread a very careful line making sure that they are recruiting top-tier candidates that don’t run necessarily afoul of conservatives in a state…The hope is we can navigate these waters so we don’t have Republican Senate candidates saying stupid things that will back fire 90 days before the election.”

Remember, Republicans were favored to expand their caucus in 2012, but the Tea Party foisted candidates on the GOP that scuttled those hopes.

* GOP SET TO CONFRONT REALITY OF OBAMACARE IMPLEMEMTATION: Republicans continue to insist Obamacare implementation problems will be a winner for them, but as Paul Krugman notes, the opposite may happen:

Now the reality of Obamacare is just months away. It may have a rocky start, especially in red states where the local government is doing all it can to disrupt the implementation, but pretty soon many Americans will have first-hand knowledge of how the system really works. And if Massachusetts is any guide, they’re going to like it a lot. Hence Obama’s new confidence and the desperation of the GOP.

As noted here the other day, Dems can stand squarely behind the law’s general goals and allow for the need to fix it where necessary — a better message than the GOP’s call to repeal it and replace it with nothing.

* ERIC HOLDER TO ANNOUNCE DRUG LAW REFORM: This is welcome:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is set to announce Monday that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to gangs or large-scale drug organizations will no longer be charged with offenses that impose severe mandatory sentences.

The new Justice Department policy is part of a comprehensive prison reform package that Holder will reveal in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco, according to senior department officials. He is also expected to introduce a policy to reduce sentences for elderly, nonviolent inmates and find alternatives to prison for nonviolent criminals.

It has been said that Obama planned to focus on war-on-drug reform during his second term; more on this later.

* AND STEVE KING KEEPS DIGGING ON IMMIGRATION: On NBC yesterday, GOP Rep. Steve King stood by his comparison of DREAMers to drug mules, and had this to say about GOP strategist Ana Navarro’s criticism of the remark:

“I spoke only of drug smugglers, and if Ana understands the language she should know that.”

Dem Rep. Xavier Becerra’s framing on King and immigration reform remains apt: “Republicans are going to have to decide whether they belong to the Steve King faction of the Republican Party, or to the get-it-done faction of the Republican Party.”

What else?

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