Republicans in Disarray


A week ago, Republicans were united and on the verge of completely commanding the political narrative between now and November. Now, with their entire strategy having been upended by the Democratic health care victory, the party is in disarray.

There is no fallback on health care -- none -- except to call for repeal, as conservative House lawmakers and congressional candidates have already begun to do. But what to repeal? The "bad" stuff -- tax increases and such -- kick in later. Most everyone who will feel reform's touch within the next year or so will get benefits, be it in the form of not having their coverage rescinded, or be it a $250 rebate check from the government. Today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged as much by refusing to say whether Republicans actually would move to repeal legislation, or parts of it, if they manage to take control of the Senate. The bundled issue-history of health reform remains unpopular enough for Republicans to campaign on repealing it, but it's hard to imagine the enthusiasm gap between high-interest voters widening any further. The price of health care, and its repeal, has been factored in to the Republican midterm base. (That's not to say that the arguments, substantively, aren't there: see Megan's 8 predictions.) For Democrats, though, there is upside potential.

Other Republicans will go ahead with lawsuits, challenging Congress's presumed lack of authority to force citizens to buy health coverage or be punished by the government. (Andrew Cohen explains why this reasoning is fairly specious.)

Let's move beyond health care for a moment. Today, the White House welcomed faith-based groups who are demanding a vote on immigration reform. Congressional leaders don't know whether one will be in the offing by November, but the debate is certain to flare up. And the business lobby, which had united against health care reform, will suddenly find itself split: the same would be the case if the president were to try and use his political capital to push through climate change legislation. Doubtful he would, but he if he did, there would be many megaphones at work.

Democrats assume that the immigration debate will open the curtain on the Tea Party movement; health care will be child's play compared to the tantrums over the prospect of earned legalization and other measures. The overlap between the Tea Partiers and ethnocentric immigration restrictionists is huge, and even many Republicans worry that the embedded nativism in the movement, whether or not it is also racialized (as a proxy for being against Obama and his ilk) will come to the fore in a way that once again diminishes the fervor of right-leaning independents and energizes Hispanics.

But forget immigration even: the next two big presidential initiatives, domestically, at least, will be -- or should be -- easy political victories: reauthorizing but reforming the education law, and financial services reform.

All the while, Democrats can pick and choose elements of health care that are popular and force Republicans to look cruel in their calls for repeal.

Thumbnail photo credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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