Republicans' Anti-Obamacare 2014 Strategy

[ Posted Wednesday, July 17th, 2013 – 16:40 UTC ]

I was listening to a random Republican in a television interview recently (which is a dignified way of saying I forgot who it was and am too lazy to look it up), and was struck by how open he was about his party's 2014 election strategy, over a year in advance. Essentially, this strategy will be: "We're running against Obamacare, again." Obamacare will be the number one issue Republicans are building their election strategy around, the politician easily admitted. This sounds pretty plausible to me, especially considering that the House is spending its time attacking Obamacare once again (I forget, is this the 38th time or the 39th? Another factoid I'm too lazy to look up, I suppose). But I can't help but wonder whether running an anti-Obamacare strategy is going to turn out more like 2012 for Republicans than 2010.

Fear and hatred for Obama's signature and now-eponymous law worked wonders for the Republican Party in 2010, in Obama's first midterm election. The year of the Tea Party swept a whole bunch of Republicans into office, and handed them the House of Representatives. This magic will, obviously, be what Republicans are trying to recapture in 2014 when no presidential nominees are on the ballot. But they tried a similar thing in 2012, and it flat-out didn't work. Perhaps because Republicans were asking the public to believe something that was not just false, but 180 degrees counter to reality ("Republicans are the saviors of Medicare!"), the issue just never gained the traction they thought it would, and Republicans got trounced in the polls. So will the Obamacare issue play out more like 2010 or 2012 this time around?

That may be an impossible-to-answer question. It's always tough to figure out what the public "meant" or "was saying" in any given election. Facile answers aren't always the right ones, even if the media gloms onto an unsubstantiated storyline and repeats it ad nauseam. But Republicans running full-out anti-Obamacare this time around is going to be radically different, because voters will soon be able to compare Republican rhetoric to actual reality. How this influences both the Republicans' strategy and the vote itself may be surprising.

In the Republican right-wing echo chamber, there is absolute and unequivocal certainty on the issue of Obamacare. It will be a train wreck. The entire thing is unworkable and will be a disaster of unparalleled proportions, and the American people will hate it with a white-hot fury. Ask any true conservative, they will give you chapter and verse on the subject. Republicans have convinced themselves that this outcome is preordained and cannot be avoided.

But what if they're wrong?

I really don't think many Republicans have even considered this possibility. They are convinced it so far-fetched that it's not even worth even their minimal consideration. Obamacare will fail, people will hate it, end of story. Or perhaps, projecting into the future: "...and once Obamacare fails, more Republicans will be elected and the damn thing will be repealed."

But what if it works reasonably well? What if (gasp!) people actually like it?

This is all speculative, of course. But any prognostications of future elections is nothing more than making such guesses, so it's a subject worth considering. What if Obamacare works? How will Republicans react?

This week, House Republicans have gleefully jumped on the announcement by the White House that the employer mandate part of the law will be delayed for one year, and have decided to force a bunch of votes in the House so that Democrats will be put in a pickle (that's the idea, at any rate). They're doing their best to keep the issue alive and in front of the cameras, which makes perfect sense if they're really hitching their 2014 wagon to the anti-Obamacare issue. This will only intensify as the full implementation of Obamacare begins later this year.

From now until (at the very least) next summer, Republican consultants will be combing the country for stories of what a rampant failure Obamacare truly is. Every person paying more for their premium will be appearing in a political ad on your local television screen, along with every case where someone scraped their knee and didn't get a bandage. Every possible story of dysfunction will be spotlighted and exaggerated beyond comprehension. That's what making a whole election hinge on one issue is all about, after all. They'll trot out some weepy family members who are fully convinced that Grandma died because Barack Obama killed her. Think I am just using hyperbole to make a point? Just wait and see. The "Mediscare" ads will look tame by comparison, that's my guess.

But the public (or the portion thereof who decide elections) always weighs partisan political claims against their own experience. And this means not just their own personal experiences, but also secondhand ones communicated to them by extended family members, neighbors, friends, coworkers, and everyone else they meet. So if a politician tells them something which runs absolutely counter to their own experience, they won't believe it. And if Obamacare turns out well for a huge majority, then there will be a whole lot of people who just won't buy the claims Republicans are making. "Well, that's not what happened to me/my child/my friend" rules over partisan rhetoric, to put this another way.

This could be an especially acute problem for Republicans, considering how much time and energy they've already put into painting Obamacare as evil. They've frightened a whole bunch of people with claims that are either dubious at best, or downright lies (my favorite: Sarah Palin's "death panels" who decide which children are fit to live). When these things don't actually happen, Republicans are going to have to pivot a bit politically ("OK, it's not as bad as we said it was going to be -- but it's still really bad!"). This shouldn't be too hard for them to do, but it will give Democratic candidates some valuable soundbites to use in debates ("You said three years ago that everyone would lose access to the doctor of their choice, and that did not happen").

But even allowing for this pivot, what if the doomsday predictions don't happen across the board? The news broke today -- amusingly enough, as House Republicans were posturing for the cameras -- that New York insurance premiums are going to fall by at least fifty percent under Obamacare. That's pretty good news for people in New York who are shopping for insurance on the open market. And New York's not the only state which has shown that the marketplace does indeed work (a tenet that used to be part of the conservative playbook, at least when they came up with the Obamacare idea in the first place). Prices will go up for a small number (mostly young people who won't be able to buy substandard policies any more), but will come down for the vast majority of the buying public.

Transitions are always messy. There will probably be enough scare stories for Republicans to mine for political ads. Not everything is going to work out perfectly right out of the box. But even having said all of that, what if Obamacare does indeed succeed? What happens if a whole lot of people are happy with the changes? "My brother was finally able to buy real insurance even with his pre-existing condition" is going to change a lot of hearts and minds out there. The Obamacare exchanges are going to start this October. That is over one year before the 2014 elections. By the time we vote next year, Obamacare will be fully up and running and people will be making their choices for their second year, at the exchanges. This is plenty of time for the American public to weigh the reality of Obamacare against the distorted picture that its opponents have been painting for four years now. The Republicans so overplayed their "it's never gonna work!" hand that it has actually lowered the bar for what could be considered Obamacare's success. People have such low expectations for the program that if it meets or exceeds them, they'll be reasonably satisfied. Which is a huge danger for the Republican Party's expressed 2014 anti-Obamacare strategy -- and one that they likely don't even see right now.

The real irony will be if Republicans realize this before it's too late, and make a much larger pivot before the election. If they start actually addressing the issue and putting forth real solutions to fix whatever problems crop up (campaigning, perhaps, on: "We're going to fix it so it works"), then it will signal the ultimate defeat of the anti-Obamacare strategy. It'll actually be very easy to tell when this happens (if it does). It will be precisely the point that every single Republican candidate stops calling it "Obamacare." If you hear multiple Republicans -- within the same week -- use the phrase "Affordable Care Act" then you know that they're waving the white flag on the issue.

Because if this scenario does indeed play out, that's going to be the bitterest pill for Republicans to swallow. They were the ones, after all, who insisted upon calling it "Obamacare" in the first place. And if people like it, it will forevermore be to Obama's credit, due to this Republican branding effort. So if they actually stop using the term, it'll be because they know they've lost the battle for good.

-- Chris Weigant


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


15 Comments on “Republicans' Anti-Obamacare 2014 Strategy”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    "What if people like it"???

    Considering all that has been said about it.... FROM DEMOCRATS!!!!

    I think the chances of people "liking it" are Slim and None....

    And Slim just logged off...

    ObamaCare is a "train wreck"..

    That's a direct quote from the Democrat who wrote it...

    Considering how it has decimated the hours and pay of Americans working middle class???

    I don't think anyone has to worry about Americans "liking" Obamacare...


  2. [2] 
    Paula wrote:

    It's funny that I read this paragraph: In the Republican right-wing echo chamber, there is absolute and unequivocal certainty on the issue of Obamacare. It will be a train wreck. The entire thing is unworkable and will be a disaster of unparalleled proportions, and the American people will hate it with a white-hot fury. Ask any true conservative, they will give you chapter and verse on the subject.

    and then Michale illustrated your point perfectly in his response!

    Anyway, it is going to be interesting to see how all this shakes out. I think there's a very good chance that the repubs will overreach in a big way. Coz, the thing is, this is about people's healthcare--their ability to afford it and be able to count on it. If the pubs run around (as I agree, they will) shrieking about how this or that is screwed up, without offering solutions and without even acknowledging that solutions are needed, I think they will seriously turn people off. As you point out, this is something people will experience directly and that changes the dynamic dramatically.

    And, after awhile, I think they'll make crystal clear that they aren't part of the solution so they are definitely part of the problem.

    It will help if Dems are aggressive in their defense of Obamacare and if they take the offense on how the repub are trying to sabotage it.

    And I will remember to look for the moment when the talking points go out and all of a sudden "Obamacare" is retired.

  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    Ask any true conservative, they will give you chapter and verse on the subject.

    Obviously you didn't read my response.

    My response dealt with the DEMOCRATS who have a problem with ObamaCare..

    Even the guy who WROTE ObamaCare calls it a "train wreck"...

    Funny how you completely ignore that...

    Further, you neglect to address the FACT that 74% of businesses are eliminating full time hours so as not to penalized under ObamaCare...

    And you claim that is GOOD for the working class??

    How so???


  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    Why no issues with the fact that Democrats are excusing businesses and corporations from the mandate, but still forcing the mandate on the middle class???

    I thought ya'all were "warriors" for the middle class, not in the pocket of business/corporations???

    What gives?? :D


  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:


    Look up the Edmund Perry case..

    Look up the Tawana Brawley case..

    You are absolutely correct..

    We *DO* have a racism problem here in the US..

    And that problem is racist black (so-called) "leaders" agitating racial hatred for profit..

    THAT is the ONLY racist problem we have here in the United States.

    And, until reasonable and rational people start calling these assholes out on it and holding racist morons like Sharpton, Crump and Jackson accountable for their despicable and perverted acts, we will continue to have a "racism" problem here in the US..

    Yea, I know, I know. No one here will address THAT issue because there isn't any WAY to address the Perry/Brawley/Zimmerman issue w/o admitting ya'all are wrong..


  6. [6] 
    michty6 wrote:

    I heard this the other day (a Republican saying they were going to take the Senate and repeal Obamacare) and it just makes me laugh. People can't really be stupid enough to believe that Obama is going to sign into law a repeal of his own bill??

    Actually, probably best not to answer that question when dealing with some of the loonies...

  7. [7] 
    michty6 wrote:

    Just quickly browsed the comments and almost spat out my coffee when I read: Further, you neglect to address the FACT that 74% of businesses are eliminating full time hours so as not to penalized under ObamaCare

    LOLOLOLOL. You can't seriously be stupid enough to believe this 'fact'?

    You seriously need to stop reading Drudge...

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    We *DO* have a racism problem here in the US..And that problem is racist black (so-called) "leaders" agitating racial hatred for profit..THAT is the ONLY racist problem we have here in the United States...Michale

    I am amazed that anyone responds to nonsense like this. Where are the moderators?

  9. [9] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Look up the Edmund Perry case..

    Look up the Tawana Brawley case..

    for every edmund perry there's an amadou diallo. for every tawana brawley there's a rodney king. trayvon martin is interesting because as a case of racial inequality it's somewhere in the middle. maybe zimmerman really did believe he was justified, and maybe a jury would have agreed with him even if the prosecution had made a better case for manslaughter. but the reality is that a white kid doing the exact same thing in the exact same place at the exact same time, even wearing the exact same clothes, would not be dead. regardless of whether or not you want to acknowledge it as true, that's the reality.

    i thoroughly read every link you provided to the "rioting" over the zimmerman verdict, they were all much ado about very little. breitbart's ghost can spin it all he likes, but except for a few stragglers who are using the event as an excuse to do what they'd probably be doing anyway, there's really not much going on.

    yes, there are people who exploit our country's racial injustice to their own ends, from lawyers and politicians to thieves and vandals. but the existence of those people does not negate the very real inequality experienced by people of color on a day-to-day basis in almost the entire US. my friend phil is the gentlest, kindest human being you'd ever meet, but on a trip to new orleans he got arrested and put in jail for essentially standing in the wrong place while being black. if i had been in the same place doing the same thing, i'd have been told to move along and be on my way. you're going to sit there and say that problem does not exist?

    Never admit a mistake if there's someone else to blame.
    -Rule of Acquisition #51

  10. [10] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Ah, I see you moved the discussion over here, Mr. Michale.

    That's ok.

    I also see you still haven't managed to explain how so many of our 2.3 million+ prisoners are people of color when more crimes are committed by white people.

    On a lighter note ...



    "P (President) emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to."
    - H.R. Haldeman's diary, President Richard Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff

  11. [11] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    OK, guys?

    The whole racism debate is getting tedious. I didn't write on the Trayvon Martin case once, I think, and I gave it a pass for a reason. So can we please keep these comment threads relevant to the column written?

    And, yes, Michale, I am looking in your direction...


  12. [12] 
    db wrote:


    Michale got himself chucked off the Daily Banter site where the discussion was going on.

    But in deference to you...

    "ObamaCare" is the only "winning" argument the Republicans have in 2014.

    Are they going to run against the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan?
    Are they going to run on "guns, law, & order"?
    Debt/Government Spending?
    Government Spying?
    Gay Marriage?

    What else they got?

  13. [13] 
    akadjian wrote:

    Sorry, CW. I'll take responsibility as well and end it on my part.

    What I will say about Obamacare is that the reason I believe it is a winning issue for Republicans has little to do with whether it will work or not.

    It also has little to do with the details.

    It has everything to do with it being the representative issue for them against big government.

    It's a moral argument and a defining issue for them.

    For the exact same reason, it's a losing argument for the Democrats.

    Why? Our moral stand would have been single payer. That, I'd defend whole hog and with passion as would most progressives.

    Defending the ACA, however, is a much more difficult moral argument for me to make, however, because we compromised so many progressive ideals.


  14. [14] 
    akadjian wrote:

    p.s. Very interested in folks' take on this.

  15. [15] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    yeah, that's on me as well. i guess the tie-in to the obamacare argument is that sometimes the substance of an issue, whether it's racism or law enforcement or health care, matters a whole lot less than the gut feelings of it. what was it drew westen said about that? something about how when reason goes against emotion, emotion always wins.

    as david says, obamacare is a dog-whistle issue for conservatives to get riled up over. meanwhile, liberals (and even most left-leaning moderates) look at it and go, "ho-hum, better than nothing i guess." that's why it's a winning issue for conservatives.


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