Commentary: GOP needs to focus on winnable issues
January 02, 2014 10:20 AM
by DAN THOMASSON

It seems fairly obvious now that the Republicans are going to have to ride into the midterm election year on an issue other than the Affordable Care Act, which more and more looks like a dead horse not worth beating as political campaigns go.

That’s not to say that flaws in the “abominable Obamacare” — as the GOP has labeled it for the past five years — won’t offer some fodder for electioneering. But if one succumbs to the reality that once something is given by the government, it is difficult to take away, it becomes easier to accept that the opportunities for repeal are next to nil.

Even if the Democrats should manage to lose the Senate next fall, not terribly likely at this stage, doing away entirely with the giant health reform bill would face doubtful success. A two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress needed to override a sure veto would be nearly impossible to achieve especially with the outcry one might expect from those already benefiting from the program.

The smart money in the Republican firmament seems willing to bet on another strategy, shying away from the most radical tea party approaches of the far right and coming back toward solid conservatism that has a more general appeal. That would include concentrating on convincing voters that economic problems can be solved and immigration and tax reform can be achieved without disruptions that seem to want to turn the clock back a century or so.

The question becomes now whether the GOP’s still powerful fringe groups understand that winning a primary is not the end goal — that preserving some outdated ideology at the cost of winning office is not desirable for the long- or short-range health of the party. That may be more difficult than it seems considering more moderate (make that more politic) candidates are facing tough primaries from the outer reaches. Rigid doctrinaire challengers obviously didn’t get the message sent by voters in the likes of Indiana and Missouri during the last election when certain Republican victories suddenly turned to ashes in the firestorm of self-destruction.

There are some signs, however, that the stranglehold that a relative few hard-nosed ideologues have had on the Republican caucus, particularly in the House, has been loosened by GOP leadership apparently tired of being portrayed as puppets and cowards and obstructionists held hostage at the expense of rational government. That includes House Speaker John Boehner.

Boehner has made it clear he is weary of the allegations and has served notice on the outside groups that he is the master of the House or caucus if one prefers. It doesn’t mean, however, that he has given up his conservative credentials or his understanding that he owes allegiance to long-standing conservative principles, merely that he is more willing to practice the art of compromise rather than being bullied into stances that are not compatible with winning.

The New Year on the other hand will see several of the Senate’s tea party heroes like Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas preparing for a potential entry into the presidential sweepstakes of 2016. Will they effectively compete with Gov. Chris Christy of New Jersey or Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the budget man who was Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012? Perhaps in the primary states but even that speculation is premature at this early date. Let’s just say there will be considerable movement that will escalate after next November’s balloting is finished. Meanwhile, what’s on the table for 2014? The answer is the same panoply of issues that have occupied the past year — immigration, sequestration, the debt ceiling, Afghanistan troop withdrawal and so forth.

The focus is likely to shift on reforming rather than annihilating the health reform act. Just too many Americans already are beginning to benefit from having some sort of insurance protection to do away with it despite the awkwardness and embarrassment of the rollout. Some Republicans counsel that it would be better for the party to lead the charge to try to correct the flaws. Others contend that such a move would play into the hands of Democrats who would claim overall credit for the program.

But if you are betting on a functional approach to politics and government from Capitol Hill to the White House, it’s probably still a long shot.

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