The Morning Plum: Panic sets in among GOP elites

September 19, 2013

Karl Rove is always worth reading for a glimpse of how GOP elites are thinking, and his latest Op ed suggest real panic setting in over the chaos and division spreading among Congressional Republicans over how to handle this fall’s fiscal fights. Rove confirms an argument that will be familiar to readers of this blog: Public disapproval of Obamacare does not translate into public support for GOP efforts to sabotage the law.

Rove argues this is particularly the case among independents, and says it could have serious repercussions in next year’s elections. With House Republican leaders set to hold a vote later this week that functionally uses a government shutdown threat to defund Obamacare, Rove shares new details of a poll taken by his group:

In a new Crossroads GPS health-care policy survey conducted in 10 states likely to have competitive Senate races and in House districts that lean Republican or are swing seats, 60% of independents oppose President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. If this holds through 2014, then Republicans should receive another big boost in the midterms. There is, however, one issue on which independents disagree with Republicans: using the threat of a government shutdown to defund ObamaCare. By 58% to 30% in the GPS poll, they oppose defunding ObamaCare if that risks even a temporary shutdown. [...]

But won’t voters be swayed by the arguments for defunding? The GPS poll tested the key arguments put forward by advocates of defunding and Mr. Obama’s response. Independents went with Mr. Obama’s counterpunch 57% to 35%. Voters in Senate battleground states sided with him 59% to 33%. In lean-Republican congressional districts and in swing congressional districts, Mr. Obama won by 56% to 39% and 58% to 33%, respectively. On the other hand, independents support by 51% to 42% delaying ObamaCare’s mandate that individuals buy coverage or pay a fine.

The poll is obviously one commissioned to advance an argument against defunding, but the very fact that Crossroads GPS — whose mission is to win elections — commissioned it and is calling Republicans’ attention to it is itself noteworthy. And it finds independents in key districts and states tilt heavily against the current GOP effort to sabotage Obamacare with a government shutdown threat, even though they also overwhelmingly disapprove of the law. And they support the Obama argument over the GOP one on defunding (though seeing question wording would be key here).

As I’ve been arguing for a long time, there’s just no polling evidence to support the argument from Republicans that disapproval of Obamacare is evidence the public will support its relentless efforts to undermine the law. If anything, the opposite is true. Rove’s poll suggests GOP sabotage actually turns independents who disapprove of the law against Republicans on the issue.

Of course, to the defund-Obamacare brigade, Rove has devolved into little more than a liberal squish and stooge of the tacitly pro-Obamacare GOP establishment, so his warnings will be disregarded. But it’s an ironic outcome that GOP elites now openly worry that anti-Obamacare animus has grown so radical and destructive that the battle over the health law — which GOP elites themselves spent years duping the base into believing would bring about the inexorable collapse of the Obama presidency — is now threatening to do profound, untold damage to the Republican Party.

* PUNDIT NARRATIVE FAIL ON SYRIA, EXPOSED: David Ignatius has an important column this morning that breaks with Beltway conventional wisdom on Obama’s handling of the Syria crisis. (link fixed) Crucially, Ignatius notes D.C. elites and the public have sharply different views of the situation, with elites remaining obsessed by process while the public cares about outcomes:

Obama has accomplished goals that most Americans endorse, given the unpalatable menu of choices. Polls suggest that the public overwhelmingly backs the course Obama has chosen. A Post-ABC News survey asked Americans if they endorsed the U.S.-Russian plan to dismantle Syrian chemical weapons as an alternative to missile strikes; 79 percent were supportive.

Yet the opinion of elites is sharply negative…He can propose what the country wants, succeed at it and still get hammered as a failure.

Yup. I’d only add polling also shows Americans just don’t view the question of what constitutes true leadership through the same prism as do elite pundits, who have arbitrarily decided adapting to changing circumstances equals weakness. That’s the core point here. Again, none of this means there is isn’t plenty to criticize. It’s just that the punditry is focused on the wrong criticism.

 * SENATE DEMS UNITED AGAINST HOUSE GOP DEFUNDING PLAN? One key question will be whether any red state Dem Senators waver in their opposition to the new House GOP scheme to temporarily fund the government while defunding the health law. Here’s Chuck Schumer:

“We are completely united on this issue. We’re not defunding ObamaCare and we’re not negotiating on the debt ceiling…If they think we’re going to back off, they’re wrong, they’re on a different planet.”

One hopes so. Some are already arguing that this will be a “tough vote” for some Senate Dems. It shouldn’t be.

* YEP: WE’RE HEADED FOR CHAOS THIS FALL: Norman Ornstein lays out the reasons he thinks a government shutdown and/or debt ceiling default are genuinely possible this time around. If anything, John Boehner is exerting even less control over the Tea Party wing than in 2011, while Mitch McConnell — facing a challenge from the right — has less of an incentive to step in and fill the vacuum. Meanwhile, the hope that a few GOP Senators splitting with party leaders and dragging their party towards sanity has waned. Utter chaos.

* QUOTE OF THE DAY, GOP CHAOS EDITION: With Ted Cruz predicting the House GOP bill to defund Obamacare will fail in the Senate, a House GOP aide makes House Republican frustration explicit:

“It is disappointing to see that Wendy Davis has more balls than Ted Cruz,” in reference to the state senate Democrat who filibustered an abortion bill in the Texas legislature over the summer.

There’s a serious point here involving how far Senate conservatives will go procedurally to move the House GOP defunding bill. See Brian Beutler’s gaming out of how House Republicans have called the bluff of those conservatives, putting them in a box.

* THE PHONY CONSERVATIVE ALTERNATIVE TO OBAMACARE: A good Bloomberg editorial on the “alternative” to Obamacare rolled out yesterday by House conservatives gets to the heart of the matter:

The most important achievement of the Affordable Care Act is that the law attains something like universal health care in the U.S., closing an embarrassing and indefensible gap between it and every other developed country. That means any plan billed as an alternative has to meet one definitional threshold, and only one: covering a similar number of Americans as Obamacare. To go a step further and be a better alternative, a proposal should cover a similar number of Americans at a lower cost or with fewer unwanted consequences.

Right. As noted here yesterday, Republicans just don’t envision a robust government role in dramatically expanding coverage for the uninsured and regulating the market to protect consumers and folks with preexisting conditions.

* AND A RENEWED GUN DEBATE? The New York Times reports that some Senators are starting to see the Navy Yard shooting as an opportunity to renew the debate over gun safety, but only with a focus on mental health. Reminder: Despite “gun rights” obfuscation, such solutions are not mutually exclusive in any way with efforts to improve background checks.

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.
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Greg Sargent | September 18, 2013