Remember when people like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove ran the Republican political machine and out-manuevered Democrats at every turn? That seems forever ago. Personally, I trace the beginning of this decline to Karl Rove’s announcement of a “permanent Republican majority.” It was a clumsy labeling, both for its taunting of Democrats sparking a fundraising boom and its rhetorical similarity to the “1000-year Reich.” Don’t compare your party to totalitarianism is a pretty good lesson.
Now Republicans are confronting the Affordable Care Act debate with the mantra “Repeal and Replace.” First, the message implicitly recognizes that Republicans are losing the health care debate. In 2010, Republicans called for a simple repeal of the law and win the House. Now, the mood has shifted and Republicans recognize that, even if the Affordable Care Act is unpopular, returning to the old system with skyrocketing costs and no plan for over 30 million uninsured Americans is even more unpopular. Opening from a position of weakness is never a good move.
Not to mention the fact that the Affordable Care Act is becoming increasingly popular. After sitting for years at almost 20 points more unpopular than popular, Americans are now evenly divided on the Affordable Care Act and a majority, regardless of their personal feelings, want Republicans to stop trying to prevent the implementation of the law. Sticking to “Repeal and Replace” as a campaign centerpiece while the public turns the other way puts Republicans on the wrong side of history.
But the biggest problem with the “Repeal and Replace” mantra is that Republicans rolled this out before giving any serious thought to the “Replace” portion. In the past, conservative talking heads could repeat that phrase enough that they could drill it into the heads of a portion of the American public. Think: “Secret plan to end the war in Vietnam.” But now, people are responding to the “Repeal and Replace” message and asking the simple question, “‘Replace’ with what?” to hilarious effect.
For example, Mitch McConnell can’t figure out why covering the uninsured under the Affordable Care Act matters:
Or John Boehner on Face the Nation where he persistently refused to answer Norah O’Donnell’s questions about the specific replacement:
Never, ever, ever promise to implement a program until you have a program in mind. You end up looking stupid and untrustworthy.