GOP Strategists Are Ditching 'Repeal and Replace,' but Still Want to Get Rid of Obamacare

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The GOP has finally managed to repeal one part of Obamacare: its own "repeal and replace" slogan. As evidence of the slogan's empty promise keeps coming, but GOP strategists aren't admitting that the idea was far-fetched — instead they argue that "repeal and replace" did so well uniting America's right that the party is ready for a new strategy to reach across the aisle. That new strategy is, surprisingly, being fine-tuned.

David M. Drucker, from the right-leaning Washington Examiner, spoke with a number of anonymous Republican strategists who argued that "the party remains as committed as ever to opposing President Obama's health care overhaul," just not with the "repeal and replace" slogan. The problem is "repeal" implies that Republicans favor the pre-Obamacare health care system and "replace" implies waiting until 2017 and hoping for a Republican president. Instead, Republicans "are likely to message their opposition to Obamacare in positive, reform-minded language like 'starting over,'" Drucker writes. Starting over sounds a lot like repealing and replacing — the strategy we all agree hasn't worked — but it's likely part of the "fine-tuning" strategists promise.

Last week Republican pollster Bill McIntruff told The Wall Street Journal that the shift would lead to more "nuanced" criticism. “You have to talk about what specifically they have screwed up, what went wrong what needs to be fixed. You have to have a bill of particulars about what hasn’t worked,” McInturff said. In other words, you have to list what you would fix, which is more or less what Democrats have been doing. An example might be running more ads featuring people who had to switch plans, though American for Prosperity have already invested millions in that strategy with ads that usually lack nuance.

As far as spin goes, this isn't convincing. Drucker's piece links to last week's Washington Post story on the GOP's signs of retreat from full repeal. In states like Oregon, Texas, Michigan, and Nevada, there have been instances of GOP candidates acknowledging they want to “work in a bipartisan manner to fix health care the right way,” or supporting the law's Medicaid expansion. That is the new strategy, and at the very least, it's not a pipe dream like "repeal and replace." 

Sen. Ron Johnson emphasized a truth acknowledged by several Republicans: repeal was never going to happen. He told Slate's David Weigel that "you'll never repeal Obamacare as long as Obama is in the White House... That's why I never supported defund, because I knew it was impossible." And that is why "repeal and replace" has to go, not because the party needs a more "nuanced" approach to reach voters across the aisle, but because more and more 2014 candidates are realizing they don't want to run on a replacement bill that won't get voted on for a law that won't get repealed.

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