The midterm elections are less than six months away, and Republicans still can't agree among themselves on what it will take to win.
The latest debate among party insiders is whether GOP House and Senate candidates should produce a document like the Contract With America that tells voters what to expect if Republicans win full control of Congress. But the fact that there is a debate at all indicates that the race is not shaping up as Republicans envisioned months ago.
Much of the anxiety concerns Obamacare. The six months between October and March saw the disastrous rollout of the exchanges, steep increases in premiums and deductibles for millions of Americans, the imposition of the individual mandate, higher taxes and other troublesome features of the Democrats' national health care scheme. Republicans saw public unhappiness as political opportunity.
But now that seems to have hit a plateau. Yes, more jarring changes are coming -- the employer mandate, the full imposition of minimum coverage requirements, and others. But President Obama has delayed several of those changes until after this November's elections. That has thrown a wrench into earlier Republican plans to exploit public discontent all the way until the election.
"There are no big implementation events to occur that could change the current equilibrium before November," says a well-connected Republican strategist. "So there is this sense that Obamacare has moved everybody that it's going to move, and that's not enough."
In addition, some GOP insiders are sensing that by November -- when the Obamacare exchanges have been up for more than a year -- the public will not see a Republican pledge to repeal as the answer to its unhappiness with the health care system.
"One thing you're beginning to see in surveys is the sense that we're so far down this path that repeal is not realistic any more," says the GOP strategist. "Clearly, they disagree with the direction of the health care system, but the idea that you can stop all this and go back to where we were before just seems unrealistic to a growing chunk of the population." A recent GOP survey found that a plurality of voters agreed with the statement, "The system has been changed too structurally that it is not possible to go back to the way it was before."
Put those concerns together, and you have the growing Republican feeling that Obamacare will not be as much of a driving motivation for voters as they had earlier hoped. And that's behind the talk about a new campaign pledge.