Obamacare will be a disaster -- for the Republicans
What's going on? Crunch time is approaching for the implementation of Obamacare, the right wing's latest candidate for Satan incarnate. Exchanges will open next month and people will be able to get actual coverage starting in January. The fire-breathers of teabaggerdom are desperate to stop it by any means necessary. Normal options for doing so are exhausted -- the law was passed by both houses three years ago and has been upheld by the Supreme Court, and everyone knows that the 40-odd repeal votes staged by House Republicans were just empty posturing. Teabaggerdom is pinning its hopes on legislative hostage-taking -- using upcoming votes on a continuing resolution on routine spending and on raising the debt ceiling to force defunding of Obamacare by threatening disaster (a government shutdown or a default on the national debt) unless Democrats cave.
Saner and more experienced Republicans know that such schemes would fail and backfire. Obama will not back down and let them destroy the defining achievement of his Presidency, and Democrats know they have the upper hand since the public would blame Republicans for the shutdown or default; they would simply wait for Republicans to blink first. Not only would hostage-taking fail to stop Obamacare, but voters fed up with Republican histrionics and brinkmanship would punish them in the 2014 election. Old-line Republicans like Boehner and McConnell will make a few rhetorical and procedural gestures toward defunding-by-blackmail, but balk at actually strapping on the suicide-bomber vest.
The fire-breathers will have none of that. To them, any compromise with the Democrats or with reality itself is an outrageous betrayal. They hardly have any energy left over to attack Democrats after all their fervent denunciation of McConnell, Boehner, RINOs, "squishes", etc. If, as now seems likely, Congressional Republicans brush aside the efforts of the teabaggers in their midst (like Cruz and Lee) and let the continuing resolution and the debt-ceiling rise go through without kamikaze attacks on Obamacare, then I shudder to contemplate the reaction. The crazies have worked themselves up into a conviction that Obamacare taking effect is the end-game, the death of the Republic, the annihilation of mom and apple pie. This isn't an argument about a law, it's an epic battle between good and evil. And whoever allows the demons to defeat the angels might as well be a demon himself.
Combine this with the widespread conviction that the defeats of 2008 and 2012 stemmed from nominating moderates instead of True Conservatives, and the stage is set for a real split next year. The fire-breathers are threatening more primary challenges of the kind that delivered O'Donnell, Angle, Akin, Mourdock, etc. and cost the Republicans seats they could otherwise have won. Winning against Democrats hardly seems to be on their mental horizon at all. The battle-cry is: Get the RINOs out. Even where primary challenges fail, willingness to stay home or vote for third candidates seems higher than ever. Republican Congressional leaders have apparently decided this is less of a risk than further alienating the mainstream is, and in the long run they're right -- the party must appeal to voters beyond the base in order to remain viable. But the shorter term -- which won't be all that short -- looks rocky.
Another factor at work is that many Republicans (not only the extremists) are so convinced that Obamacare will be a disaster that they think they can sit back and watch public backlash against the law do the heavy lifting for them in 2014 and 2016, sweeping Democrats out of office. In fact, while polls show "Obamacare", so designated, to be fairly unpopular (hardly surprising since Republicans have put so much energy into spreading misinformation about it), the individual specific actual things that it does are polling much better. Inevitably, implementation glitches have happened and will continue to do so, and Republicans are doing everything they can to sabotage the law in states they control -- but when Obamacare has been in effect for a while and the public has seen its actual results, and the expected backlash doesn't materialize, Republicans will be left scrambling for an alternative strategy.
We shouldn't be complacent about 2014. Off-year low turnouts favor Republicans, as we saw in 2010. But if this mitigates or cancels out their losses, it will simply embolden the crazies to continue their anti-moderate rampage in 2016. If they nominate a passel of Akinesque bunglers to carry on a quixotic crusade against what by then will be a normal part of the social safety net like Social Security and Medicare, they'll find out that things can go even worse for them than in 2008 and 2012.
Update 1: Hah! Mere hours after I finished writing this, Boehner appears to have opted for a kamikaze attack after all, while Democrats don't seem inclined to give in. Keep your eye on news sites like TPM, Crooks & Liars, and Daily Kos for analysis. My overall point is, if anything, strengthened -- teabaggerdom's obsession with destroying Obamacare is pushing Republicans into a destructive adventure for which voters will punish them severely.
Update 2 (Sept. 19): On closer examination, I'm not convinced that Boehner's ploy amounts to any more than the "rhetorical and procedural gestures toward defunding-by-blackmail" I anticipated above. With Boehner's original statement that the Senate is "where the fight is" and now Cruz's retort that "House Republicans must stand firm" when Reid sends back a clean CR, the whole thing has the appearance of House and Senate Republicans tossing a hot potato back and forth, both knowing they don't dare bring a shutdown, but both desperately hoping to avoid being blamed by the lunatic base when the effort collapses. Bring on the popcorn.
Update 3: Holy $#!T, look at this comment thread at RedState. Until this morning, Cruz was the shining hero of the wingnutosphere, leading the charge to destroy the ACA. Now he's being called a coward, a blowhard, "nothing more than a hairdo", etc., all for simply acknowledging that Senate Republicans can't sustain a filibuster of a clean CR since a few Republicans will side with the Democrats. How fast they turn on their own, even for being unable to do the impossible!
[Image at top by Mario Piperni.]