The Washington Post

Obamacare should be a golden issue for Republicans in 2014. But they are screwing it up.

A look inside the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll makes one thing very clear: President Obama's health care law isn't popular. At all.

Just 42 percent of those polled support the law while 52 percent disapprove. Dig into those numbers and a clear passion gap presents itself; 26 percent strongly support the law while 39 percent strongly oppose it. But, wait, there's more. Thirty six percent believe the law has made the health care system worse while 19 percent think it's made it better. (Among independents, just 16 percent think it has made things better while 35 percent say it has made things worse.)  Just nine percent of people said that the law had made their family's health care costs better while 33 percent said it had made them worse. (Among independents, that was 10 percent better/34 percent worse.)

That set of numbers -- combined with Obama's middling popularity (47 percent approve/47 percent disapprove in the Post-ABC poll) -- should be the main ingredients for Republican electoral success in a second term, midterm election like the one coming in 2014.

But, but, but. Republicans have chosen to fight on the one piece of ground that isn't favorable to them on healthcare: tying its defunding to keeping the government open.

In that same Post-ABC poll that shows dire reviews for the health care law, just 27 percent of respondents want Congress to shut down the government rather than fund Obamacare. (To be clear: Republicans are emphasizing their desire to keep the government open but are simultaneously insisting that the legislation have defunding Obamacare tied to it, a non-starter for the Democratic Senate and White House.)

Here's another way to think about the Republicans' approach. Imagine you are a contestant on the (great) game show "Let's Make a Deal". In your hand, you have $10,000 in cash. Monty Hall, the host, asks if you want to keep your money or trade it in for what's behind Curtain One. Except that unlike the show where what's behind Curtain One is a surprise, you know what's behind it -- and it's a llama tied to a pole. (This actually happened.)

Simply put: Obamacare has the potential to be a terrific political issue for Republicans -- both with their base and among independents -- in 2014. But, by focusing so heavily on linking defunding it to shutting down the government, the party is taking an issue that should be a stone-cold winner and making it, at least potentially, much less powerful.

The Post's congressional reporter Ed O'Keefe reports on how the debate over Obamacare is holding up legislation in the House and Senate. (The Washington Post)

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.

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