Primary season for Republicans will determine which direction the party heads. Much of the past year, as Republicans fought amongst themselves, both sides said publicly that the disputes were over tactics, not over ideas and ideals. That is not actually true. Battle-weary and tired of their own base, many Republicans in Washington are ready to draw up surrender papers and retreat from the field fighting for repeal of Obamacare.
Randall Stephenson is the CEO of AT&T and also presides over the Business Roundtable. The Roundtable is a business lobbying group that has the ear of Republican leaders. So they were undoubtedly paying attention when Stephenson lumped Obamacare in with Medicaid and Social Security as entitlements worth keeping.
Thomas Donahue, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in the past two weeks, declared the Chamber too would start taking a pragmatic approach toward fixing Obamacare instead of keeping up the fight to repeal it. The Chamber is committing financial resources to opposing conservatives in Republican primaries who are most stridently committed to repealing Obamacare.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former economic advisor to John McCain's Presidential bid, an opponent of Obamacare and a man appointed to the 2009 Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, is starting a new think tank. The Washington Post reports Holtz-Eakin's new think tank will focus on fixing Obamacare, instead of repealing Obamacare.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arms of Senate and House Republicans, have blackballed the political campaign group Jamestown Associates. The group has worked with conservative candidates across the country who are challenging establishment politicians. Most of Jamestown Associates' clients are campaigning on full repeal of Obamacare.
In Nebraska, Ben Sasse, a candidate for the United States Senate, has forged an increasingly rare coalition of conservatives supporting him. The Senate Conservatives Fund, the Club for Growth, National Review, Paul Ryan, this author and others who are often on opposite sides of intra-party fights, are all with him.
Sasse, a college president, forged the coalition over his ability to articulate an intellectual, conservative strategy against Obamacare. But with conservative groups supporting him, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and his lobbying friends have thrown in against him.
In the United States House of Representatives and Senate, Republican leaders keep coming up with novel ways to "undermine" Obamacare, which have the perverse effect of keeping it around longer. Republicans in Washington can point to 40 separate votes registering their opposition to Obamacare. But conservatives can point to dozens of substantive votes where, when the GOP could have actually undercut Obamacare, they chose to punt.
This is the battleground the Republicans approach headed into in 2014. Outside political observers such as Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report and others note that the Democrats would largely have to sweep the field of House swing districts to take back the House of Representatives this year. But as 2014 progresses, more and more Democrats announce they are retiring. That is a good indicator they do not think they will take back the House.
Since 2010, Republican leaders in Washington have fundraised off voter anger over Obamacare. They have pledged repeatedly to repeal Obamacare. Each time they have advanced, they have moved their own goal posts. Then they have fundraised again off Obamacare. It has been, in truth, the gift that keeps on giving for the Republicans. But at some point, the fundraising ride will end.
That day is upon us. Voters who have funded the GOP effort are tired of their broken promises. They are tired of Republican leaders trying to silence outside groups who have pointed out their broken promises. They are tired of seeing friends and relatives lose health care insurance and full-time jobs because of Obamacare. Mostly, they are tired.
The weary voters also hate Washington, D.C., and a good portion of those voters will vote in Republican primaries. But they will have to turn against the insiders, including men like Senator Mitch McConnell, battling in his own Kentucky Republican Primary, if they want to keep the Republicans fighting for repeal of Obamacare.