If you want to understand why Democrats believe they are not uniformly on the defensive over Obamacare — and why the GOP stance on the health law is also a liability — take a look at this ad that Rep. Paul Broun is running against Rep. Jack Kingston, his opponent in the Georgia GOP Senate primary:
Kingston had previously said:
“A lot of conservatives say, just step back and let this thing fall to pieces on its own. But I don’t think that’s always the responsible thing to do. I think we need to be looking for things that improve health care overall for all of us. If there was something in Obamacare, we need to know about it.”
The suggestion that we should look to improve health care for “all of us” was apparently a huge no-no, if it entails accommodating any part of Obamacare. In the ad, Broun tees off on this:
“Jack Kingston wants to keep Obamacare….now he wants to fix it. I think that’s wrong…I don’t want to fix Obamacare. I want to get rid of it.”
Kingston is now furiously walking back his apostasy, pointing to his dozens of votes to repeal the law as proof that his zeal to get rid of it knows no bounds.
The point here is that GOP base voters may force Republican lawmakers to remain chained to a fantasy — that Obamacare’s demise is still a genuine possibility. While Democratic operatives fully recognize that the law is unpopular, that further problems are possible, and that Dems are still in danger, they believe Republican lawmakers and candidates are constrained in a way that will work against them, too.
Democratic lawmakers and candidates at least have some flexibility to deal with problems as they arise — they can call for fixes while defending the law’s broader goal of expanding affordable health coverage. Republicans don’t have any flexibility. Remember, a recent CNN poll showed that only Republican voters believe the law should already be pronounced a failure, while moderates and independents still think its problems can be solved. Republican lawmakers and candidates must continue to insist on full repeal and nothing else, even as the number of people gaining coverage continues to mount.
Dems will seize on this to argue that Republicans are only interested in sabotaging Dem solutions and are unwilling to engage in constructive governing. They will contrast this with their own “keep and fix” stance, noting that one side wants to fix the health system, and the other wants to go back to the way things used to be.
All of this comes as national political reporters and commentators are pointing out that repeal is now dead, and that continuing to advocate for it is not a viable strategy. The First Read crew pointed out the other day that Republicans are trying to edge away from repeal, that it doesn’t play well with swing voters, and that Republicans are “running out of attacks” on the law. The Fix’s Aaron Blake noted today that a new Gallup poll shows only a third of Americans support repeal, despite the awful rollout. Even Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren expressed skepticism about the repeal stance while interviewing Mitch McConnell, asking if he thought the law could be improved. (You’ll be surprised to learn that he said No.)
None of this is to say Obamacare won’t weigh Dems down next year. It probably will. But the GOP stance may prove problematic, too, and the seemingly unshakable Republican certainty that the law will do nothing but shower them with political riches all the way through Election Day 2014 seems just a tad premature.