Brian Birdnow

This past week many conservatives, both in politics and the media, seemed to be approaching their wits end as to why some in the Republican establishment show little interest in pulling the plug on the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare”. Plaintive Op-Eds and commentary pieces in the prestige media pondered this question during the week and the conservative radio and television hosts openly speculated on a supposed GOP death wish on the issue. There are good reasons for the conservative anxiety on this question. First of all, the Obamacare rollout has been nothing short of a calamity. It has been much worse than anyone could have imagined, and these are the people who will have soon have charge of one-sixth of the nation’s economy and literal life-and-death decisions once this mistake has been fully implemented. Secondly, the public, which has always been ambivalent about the law (see the contradictory nature of the 2010 and 2012 elections) is now seeing things more clearly, and is rebelling as a result. Thirdly, the GOP has something tangible to employ in their battle with a slippery politician who campaigns ceaselessly, but hands the hot potato of his failures to others who willingly accept them. Still, there are significant elements in the Republican Party that counsel retreat and, yes, acceptance of Obamacare. Why?

The dynamics of GOP politics today actually reflect an internal battle stretching all the way back to 1938. In that fateful year the Republican Party split into two separate and contentious factions. The GOP was at a low historical point, having suffered electoral thrashings in 1932, ’34, and ’36. The U.S. Senate counted barely over twenty Republican members in 1937. National Republicans had to devise some type of strategy in order to remain relevant. The first group offering a plan consisted mostly of GOP officeholders from the Northeastern quadrant of the nation, along with a smaller contingent from the upper-Midwest. These Republicans, led by Thomas Dewey, the urbane New York governor, counseled the Party to basically accept the Democrats and the New Deal, but to emphasize Republican managerial competence and administrative efficiency. The Deweyite approach (sometimes called me-too Republicanism) could be summed up thusly: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, and say you’ll do better than the other guys.


Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.