The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Crossroads ad: Thom Tillis has the “conservative guts” to replace Obamacare

Here’s yet more evidence that Obamacare repeal is not a winner for Republicans, on the same day that it was announced that the law has hit its target of seven million enrollments.

The Rove-founded American Crossroads is up with a $1 million ad buy for North Carolina state House Speaker Thom Tillis, the GOP establishment favorite who is embroiled in a tough primary to take on Dem Senator Kay Hagan. The ad doesn’t use the word “repeal,” instead claiming Tillis has “the conservative guts to replace Obamacare with honest health care reforms”:

Interestingly, to back up the claim that Tillis would replace Obamacare with honest health care reform ideas, the Crossroads ad cites an interview that Tillis gave in February that got him attacked from the right. In that interview, Tillis claimed that “Obamacare is a great idea that can’t be paid for” and said that the alternative to the law introduced by Senator Richard Burr is a “good road map.” That plan purports to offer the good things in Obamacare — expanded coverage and protections — without the trade-offs of Obamacare, which can’t really be done in the real world.

Tillis has so far refrained from endorsing the Burr plan. And similarly, in interviews, he has claimed that of course he would replace Obamacare with something that would protect people with preexisting conditions and others who need protection, without specifying what that replacement would be. Republicans appear increasingly aware that they can’t be just for repeal, and have to promise replacements that would accomplishment some of what Obamacare accomplishes. Indeed, none other than Crossroads founder Karl Rove has warned that repeal alone is a loser.

As the case of Tillis shows, however, Republicans must also simultaneously remain vague enough about those replacements so as to avoid embracing the tradeoffs they would require — since specificity there risks angering the right. Indeed, Tillis’ embrace of even some of Obamacare’s general goals has drawn fire from his primary opponent, Tea Partyer Greg Brannon. And now the Brannon campaign will make an issue of this new Crossroads ad and its citation of that offending February interview. In a statement, Brannon spokesman Reilly O’Neal says:

“You’ll notice it makes no mention of repealing Obamacare which would take real guts and surprisingly it even references the same radio interview in which Thom says Obamacare is a great idea that can’t be paid for. What I’m not at all surprised to see is an ad touting his conservative credentials launch on April 1st of all days. Seems fitting.”

One other angle worth watching: If this primary goes into a runoff between Tillis and Brannon, as certainly seems possible, it could attract the attention of the big outside conservative groups, such as the Club for Growth, who might be more inclined to enter the race once the field is down to two people. This would lead to a battle of conservative groups against GOP establishment groups like Crossroads.

Hard core fiscal conservatives are not crazy about Tillis, in part because of his statements about Obamacare, and you might see groups like the Club make an issue out of his heretical embrace of its general goals, to portray him as insufficiently zealous in his quest to destroy the law, driving him to the right on the issue and making support for any alternative even harder.


UPDATE: Asked for comment, Tillis spokesman Jordan Shaw referred back to a previous statement he had issued about the February interview, adding: “Speaker Tillis obviously does not think Obamacare is a great idea, and in fact he wants to repeal it and will do so in the U.S. Senate.”