After a long period in the political winter, it appears that the GOP finally has something to be excited about -- the Obama administration's health care debacle. However, now they have "caught" something, they need to figure out what they need to do with it. I have been visiting with several Republican members of Congress and their staffs on this topic and an actual strategy is beginning to emerge. Here are some of the GOP's guiding principles and potential pitfalls:
Translate Obamacare disdain into electoral success. This is a little trickier than it sounds. Sure, they will point out repeatedly that the Administration knew there was something wrong with this program since March of last year but still had its roll out, but Republicans will do little to offer alternatives to fix it. Remember, the GOP wants government driven healthcare to be history. The drum will begin to be hit louder, demanding that Republicans come up with legislation of their own. During the huge Obamacare debates, the GOP offered a number of separate proposals design to lower costs by increasing competition, portability, and other key alternatives. The GOP will have to develop these into truly comprehensive legislation and develop a narrative that voters can believe in.
Incrimination by association. A poll cited in Politio.com shows that many voters want a "refund" from the 2012 election and that Mitt Romney would likely win the White House if the elections were held now. Furthermore, Obama's numbers, when it comes to honesty, are becoming among the lowest in modern history, with 52 percent saying that the President "isn't honest." These are comparable to George W. Bush in the worst days of his administration. In the same poll, a majority of Democrats and an even larger group of Democrats disapprove of the president's performance. It seems Americans can stomach some incompetence in government, but there becomes a real strain on the relationship when honesty is in question. The GOP has begun to make it clear that they were going to link Congressional Democrat political futures to their president and they seem to know it, reflected in a vote to essentially derail Obamacare for all practical purposes. 1 in 5 Democrats voted to undermine the President's signature legislation. This is a margin of roughly double that would normally "defect" on such a vote. Expect Republicans to beat this drum and force more members to either vote against Obama's policies or face defeat.
Make Obamacare the 2014 referendum issue. On the one hand, the GOP has plenty of issues from which they can attack the Democrats. The administration's attack on the First Amendment through its spying activities, the disaster in Benghazi, the flip flop on Syria, etc., etc. But Obamacare is the one issue that every voter will be affected by and the GOP knows it. Many have already lost their insurance policy they had and over a dozen states have said they cannot get it back, in spite of pleas by the President. Democrat pundits are saying that "just because Obamacare is an issue now, it doesn't mean it will be a year from now." Wishful thinking, because in a year millions of voters will become aware of the costs of the new policies and others will have had the additional opportunity cost of time spent replacing the policies (in those states where there is "no return"). Republicans will need to say that Democrats who voted for it, including those who now have buyers remorse and voted against the policy recently are "liars" just like the President or too lazy to do the necessary homework that should have made them know definitively that Obamacare was going to raise the cost for coverage. The temptation will be to bounce all over the place on issues, but there is nothing more powerful of a wedge issue than taxes on individuals and groups. Obamacare has been just that, in both time and money, and the GOP will have to pound that truth at every opportunity.