For some time, the right-wing has been trying to paint mainstream Republicans as amenable to keeping Obamacare. No, really. They suggest the John Boehners and Mitch McConnells of the political world would be content to keep the health-care law, maybe just fiddle around the edges. (One of those accused of such treachery, Doug Holtz-Eakin of the American Action Forum, says that is hogwash: “Nobody has written, researched, testified, or
whined more about . . . ObamaCare than me.”) The far right accused opponents of the shutdown as, in effect, voting for Obamacare. This is all poppycock, but it’s worth asking what the hard-liners are up to.
As a starting point, every GOP congressman and senator has voted multiple times to get rid of Obamacare, defund it, eliminate the individual mandate as a way of gutting it, stall it or offer “outs” from the mandate to, again, undermine the exchanges. It’s a ruse, a sneaky way of “accommodating” Obamacare, I guess. Moreover, if you look at all the Republican proposals for replacing Obamacare, they focus on creating patient-centered health care, eliminating the individual mandate and removing a minimum definition of “insurance.” This is true of everyone from Yuval Levin of the Ethics and Public Policy Center to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.). There is no “Obamacare lite” anywhere to be seen. These and other conservatives (including every single House member in two budget votes) want to limit increases in Medicaid, block grant it and let the states experiment with various cost-effective methods for providing health care to the poor.
In other words, the right-wing echo chamber is making this up. Shocking, I know, from people who said all Republicans had to do was “not blink” in order to win the shutdown fight. A GOP operative involved in the Senate races says, “This is an incredibly disingenuous and false charge that highlights the extent to which some on the right are willing to blatantly mislead conservatives in order to advance their own agenda. It’s also sad that instead of keeping the focus and the fire on [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid and the Democrats, the Senate Conservatives Fund and its few remaining allies are willing to cannibalize the Republican Party at all costs.”
The rationale for making up such a story is simple: If RINOs are for the very same thing that “real” conservatives are, then there is no need for “real” conservatives to attack the “squishy” Republicans. Heaven forbid this should come down to tactics or judgment; if it did, voters would recall the immensely destructive shutdown, compare that to the full-court press possible only after the government shutdown ended and conclude the “real” Republicans can’t be trusted to go down to the corner drug store, let alone win nominations in states the GOP could capture.
There are real differences in the party on issues such as the National Security Agency, immigration reform and even gay marriage, but you can bet the ranch that you will find zero Republicans in 2014 running for House or Senate vowing to “mend, not end” Obamacare. The need to create disunity and ill feelings even when there is perfect consensus is one unfortunate habit of the far right. It’s also a giveaway.
These groups, bloggers and radio talkers thrive when the GOP loses and when they can gin up their followers against fellow Republicans. I suppose if they ever tried to gin up opposition merely to Democrats there would be nothing special about them, and they’d get no attention. But, as we know, Heritage Action, Madison Project and, especially, the Senate Conservatives Fund make a tidy living getting donors to give them money to attack incumbents and incumbents’ good-faith efforts to, with only a House majority, curtail the Obama agenda.
The desire for confrontation for the sake of confrontation is at odds with what the majority of the electorate wants, and the GOP vs. GOP fight instigated by the far right is like manna from heaven for the Democrats. They don’t need to run nasty ads against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) when the Senate Conservatives Fund does it for them.
The 2014 election will be critical not only for control of Congress, but also for control of the party. The shutdown, a plugged-in GOP activist pointed out to me, convinced main-street Republicans, business leaders and party loyalists that the far right was beyond reason. There is no accommodating the far right, they figured out, because the far right yearns for fights and is not amenable to logical arguments. Therefore, the only way to save the party and prevent its destruction at the hands of radicals is to win. A novel concept — beating the other guys in an election!
There are legions of pragmatic conservatives stepping up to the plate to guide the party back onto the rails and rally voters behind a banner of conservative reform. You now see a crop of solid, electable Senate candidates. You see groups like the Chamber of Commerce engaging in primaries. And you see elected leaders, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and McConnell pushing back against nonsense spread by the far right.
In actuality, it will be over, one way or another, in a few months when the primary results are all in. If the Senate Conservatives Fund goes to the mat on its crop of tea party candidates and loses decisively, it would suggest that it is out of touch, not the “establishment.”
This doesn’t mean there aren’t good-faith disputes between more-conservative and less-conservative members of the GOP. There certainly are. But it does point out that some right-wing operatives (bearing little resemblance to actual home-grown conservatives engaging with their leaders) may fall on their faces. Once the element dedicated to dissension and dissembling about fellow Republicans fails before the only people who really matter (voters), the gig is up.
Now don’t lose any sleep over how Senate Conservatives Fund will pay the rent. It and others will spin a tale of “big money,” betrayal and goodness knows what else to keep on plying the base for cash. But elaborate conspiracy theories no longer will work. They will cease to be taken seriously. There is nothing, in the end, as compelling as an election — especially one in which the margin of victory is substantial.