August 14, 2013

There’s been lot of chatter today about these rather blunt remarks from Newt Gingrich about the perils of the GOP’s obsession with destroying Obamacare while refusing to offer any meaningful alternative:

“I will bet you, for most of you, you go home in the next two weeks when your members of Congress are home, and you look them in the eye and you say, ‘What is your positive replacement for Obamacare?’ They will have zero answer,” Gingrich said.

Gingrich blamed the problem on Republican culture that rewards obstruction and negativity instead of innovation and “being positive.”

“We are caught up right now in a culture, and you see it every single day, where as long as we are negative and as long as we are vicious and as long as we can tear down our opponent, we don’t have to learn anything,” Gingrich said, acknowledging the “totally candid” nature of his remarks. “We have to do the homework.”

“This is a very deep problem,” said Gingrich.

I don’t think this is an accident or an off the cuff remark. It looks to me like there are enough data points out there to suggest that Republicans now recognize that their overall posture on Obamacare — not to mention on the president himself — is deeply problematic, and are seriously grappling with it at the highest levels of the party.

Consider: This is very similar to the warning offered this week by Dave Winston, a veteran pollster and adviser to the House GOP leadership. In an interview with the well connected Robert Costa, Winston knocked down the idea of a shutdown as follows: “The electorate expects Congress to govern. House Republicans are going to offer their health care alternatives within that process.”

Indeed, House conservatives the other day let it be known that they would introduce an alternative to Obamacare this fall.

Just two days ago, the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore — whom Dems believe sometimes channels the thinking of GOP leaders — floated the radical idea that Republicans should point to the sequester and the falling deficit to declare victory in the spending wars, instead of provoking a costly and destructive government shutdown fight that would only help Obama and Dems.

And earlier this week, GOP strategists with direct experience of GOP midterm losses in 1998 told the also-well-connected Byron York that Republicans are at real risk of duplicating 1998′s mistakes. The strategists noted that Republicans ran relentlessly against Bill Clinton — even though he wasn’t on the ballot — and that this didn’t work; rather than gain seats, as is customary in the off year of an oppositional president’s second term, Republicans lost seats. York concluded that a similar outcome was possible next year “if Republicans stick to being an opposition party on the attack rather than the alternative party offering an agenda.”

In other words, Newt’s comments today are grounded in experience.

I don’t know what addressing this problem will look like in practice — or whether anything will be done about it, given the structural realities underpinning our politics today — but it does look as if top Republicans are well aware that it exists.

 

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