July 16, 2013

“Obamacare” is (from the Republican perspective) a socialist abomination, the government takeover of health care, a budget-buster that involves hiring thousands of IRS agents to force people to eat broccoli until death panels put them out of their misery.

The Affordable Care Act? Well, over time, my guess is that it’s going to be part of the status quo — that eventually, we’ll have irate conservatives with funny hats marching under signs telling the government to keep Obamacare out of the private health insurance they buy through exchanges. Oh, and don’t touch their subsidies either.

All of which poses all sorts of problems for Republican politicians, such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Kasich supports Medicaid expansion, presumably for the very understandable reason that it’s a terrific deal for his state and for many important interests within the state. Unfortunately, Medicaid expansion is also part of the ACA, and so when Kasich tried to deny it, well, he got caught.

The problem is that Kasich, under current Republican rules, doesn’t have a reasonable option. He’s not allowed to say that this is a good provision and it’s the other parts of Obamacare he hates. He’s not allowed to say that he wishes the whole thing would go away but as a governor he has a responsibility to make the best choices for his state given that the ACA is in fact the law.

Instead, he went with a flat-out evasion (even implying that Chief Justice John Roberts somehow was endorsing opting in to the Medicaid expansion by making it optional, a pretty bizarre stretch, not to mention one unlikely to work given that conservatives hate what Roberts did on the ACA).

We’re likely to see more of this over time, at least if the ACA works even close to as well as its supporters hope. We’re going to get more and more cases in which it just seems ridiculous to attack some part of the health-care system, but at the same time “Obamacare” is going to remain as unpopular as ever, especially among Republicans. And we’ll still have people trying to police the border. My guess, however, is that the Kasich position — simply denying that Obamacare has anything to do with the stuff people like — is going to be the winning one.

Which is going to be endlessly frustrating to ACA opponents who know better. But after all, there aren’t all that many of them. And they really can’t compete with the cranks and demagogues, anyway. Stinks for the GOP, since it means that serious policy wonks and honest analysts are marginalized. But that’s where the party is.