The PJ Tatler

Fight Over Obamacare Tactics Is Splitting the GOP in Advance of 2014 Election

This is not the time for a family argument, but it is perhaps inevitable that the split in the Republican Party over what to do about fighting Obamacare would emerge at this point.

The fight between pragmatists and true believers over shutting down the government in the futile hope that Obamacare can be defunded isn’t just over tactics. This is an ideological struggle that will define the GOP going into the 2014 election, and whichever side comes out on top will probably determine whether Republicans hold on to the House and win the Senate.

The Hill reports:

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) are leading the defunding push in the upper chamber, and 80 House Republicans have signed on, as have the conservative groups Club For Growth, Senate Conservatives Fund and Heritage Action. But many other Republicans have voiced opposition, including Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), who has indicated he’s against the plan.

Conservative groups are framing the debate in near-apocalyptic terms, and ramping up the pressure on lawmakers to back the effort — or else.

“This about stopping the worst law that has ever been passed, something we believe will destroy the country, and not all Republicans are willing to stop it. We need to draw a line in the sand,” Senate Conservatives Fund Executive Director Matt Hoskins told The Hill. “Anyone who votes to fund ObamaCare should have a primary challenge — they’re part of the problem and they should be replaced.”

Hoskins’s group is running ads criticizing a half-dozen Senate Republicans, including two they may target in primaries this year: Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.). His group plans to go after two more Republican senators starting next week.

Heritage Action, another powerful group strongly in favor of the defund movement, is spending more than a half-million dollars on ads targeting the 100 House Republicans who haven’t yet signed on to the defunding effort.

“Pretty much since 2011 and the debt ceiling fight there’s been an unwillingness to be aggressive and push good conservative policy,” said Heritage Action Communications Director Dan Holler. “On ObamaCare, arguably the biggest issue facing our country and why they’re in office in the first place, they’re not willing to take the same principled stance.”

That strategy has some Republicans seething.

“Why is @Heritage_Action spending $550K to attack conservatives but not @KayHagan who was a deciding vote on #Obamacare?” Rep. Renee Ellmers (N.C.), one of the Republicans the group is targeting, tweeted on Friday.

“Obamacare must be stopped, but we cannot stop it with political games. And, frankly, any threat to shut down the federal government over funding Obamacare in the Continuing Resolution is a political game and a distraction,” she wrote on her campaign website on Thursday.

“When you’re a so-called conservative organization that’s spending more money attacking Republicans than the [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committtee] has, it’s time to look in the mirror, and hopefully their donors will look at their priorities as well,” says Brian Walsh, a former communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “You’re falsely raising expectations over conservative grassroots types over a battle with a predetermined outcome and that’s not helpful… That’s not a constructive strategy, that’s a strategy of fratricide.”

Both sides are being rather apocalyptic in their rhetoric, which, of course, isn’t helpful. And saying that Republicans who oppose Obamacare but don’t want to shut down the government — which won’t defund Obamacare anyway — should be primaried is bizarre. What’s a primary opponent going to run on? That the incumbent is a responsible legislator who didn’t think shutting down the government for no reason is a good idea?

There’s more to this argument than simply how to go about fighting Obamacare. The split between traditional Republicans and the Tea Party extends through every issue facing Congress. But it is the tactical debate over Obamacare where the lines are most sharply drawn, and where emotions are highest.

The effect of passing a continuing resolution that funds the entire government except Obamacare is exactly the same as refusing to pass a CR — it will shut down the government. Obama won’t sign it. Democrats won’t even consider it in the Senate. There is no earthly reason to do it.

Judging the “strength” of one’s conservatism by applying a litmus test regarding one’s enthusiasm for shutting down the government for no reason is wrong. What “conservative” principle is being shredded? Too often, the right wingers confuse “issues” with “principles” with the net result being they allow their ideology to guide their actions. It is a trap that too many activists on the right fall into. Conflating public policy differences with tests of ideological purity is a mistake. It makes enemies out of allies and encourages discord instead of unity.

Division over what tactics should be used to fight Obamacare masks the real split in the party between more establishment-minded Republicans and the hard right of the Tea Party. If the true believers want to primary members who don’t toe their ever-narrowing ideological line, they should find another issue on which to plant their flag.