Obamacare is a terrible issue for Democrats. But, it won’t save Republicans.

November 14, 2013

President Obama is in a political free fall. Democrats up for reelection in 2014 are furiously trying to get out from under the problems facing the Affordable Care Act. Independent handicappers are predicting doom and gloom at the ballot box for the party next November.


House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a new conference following a meeting at the Republican National Committee offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

In short, everything is coming up Republicans lately. (Kind of like when everything came up Milhouse.) But, the party would be making a big mistake if it assumed that the problems with Obamacare were a panacea for all of what ails the GOP.  The problems with Obamacare -- and what it is doing and likely will continue to do to damage the president (and his party) -- could well make the 2014 midterm a very good election for Republicans. But, the 2016 presidential election is another animal entirely -- and one far less likely to be fundamentally influenced by Obamacare's problems.

Recent history is instructive here. Remember that in the wake of the sweeping Obama victory in 2008, there was talk that the Republican Party needed to look inward and reevaluate itself in order to grapple with the changing demographic and geographic realities that were moving against them nationally. Then President Obama introduced the Affordable Care Act.  The ensuing fight -- within Congress and in the country more broadly -- managed to unify Republicans in opposition to Obama and his agenda. It also led to massive gains for Republicans in the 2010 midterms -- with the GOP picking up 63 seats and retaking control of the House.

Those wins convinced many Republicans that Obama's victory in 2008 was an exception, not the new normal of national politics. And boy were they wrong.  The 2012 election exposed -- to an even greater degree than 2008 had -- the problems the GOP had when it came to winning a national presidential election. President Obama swamped Mitt Romney among Hispanics who viewed Republicans as aggressively opposed to their concerns, won among women who blanched at the GOP's social-issues agenda and crushed Romney among young voters.

The lesson?  Opposing a president's agenda might be enough to win a midterm election where (largely base) voters are in the mood to send a message to the man in the White House. But, simply saying "I am not that guy" is not enough (or even close to enough) to win a presidential election. And that goes double for 2016 when Obama won't be on the ballot and when the Republican brand is in the gutter nationally.

Opposition to what President Obama is doing or will have done is not a path to winning over Hispanics, women or young voters. To win in 2016, the Republican nominee needs to outline a set of policy prescriptions -- education seems like a ripe area -- that both changes the "old white guy" perception that looms over the party and appeals to some of the demographic groups that have moved away from the party in recent years.

So, yes, Republicans are having a very good last month. They may well have a very good next year. And a very good 2014 election. But, that doesn't mean that what ailed the GOP in 2012 (and 2008) has magically fixed itself. It hasn't.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Aaron Blake | November 14, 2013