Defunding is loser strategy for GOP

Back in May, Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, my counterpart here in the pages of The Hill, correctly argued that Republicans are on the right side of the polls when it comes to disapproval of ObamaCare but then squander any political advantage gained from opposing the Affordable Care Act by advocating for something that is even less popular than the president’s folly — that being the complete defunding of the healthcare plan.

It’s all there in the Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll results, with several confirmatory waves having been conducted since Mellman last reviewed the data.

ADVERTISEMENT
A plurality of Americans hold a generally unfavorable impression of the 2010 “health reform bill.”

Forty-two percent of adults polled last month describe their feelings as “unfavorable,” while only 37 percent hold a favorable impression of the legislation signed into law by President Obama.

These results have remained stable over five waves of polling by Kaiser in 2013.

The president’s plan is not very popular beyond base liberal Democrats. It doesn’t have broad or deep enough support to be successfully implemented in full over the next few years, as called for in the timeline laid out by the administration. And its impending failure will wreak havoc on Democrats’ electoral prospects as soon as the forthcoming midterm election.

But instead of letting Democrats go ahead and reap what they have sown, a band of Republicans is trying to hijack defeat at the moment of victory.

The same Americans who told Kaiser pollsters that they don’t like ObamaCare also said that they disapprove of defunding, and by a big majority. 

Fully 57 percent of Americans oppose the tactic of “trying to stop it from being put into place by cutting off funding to implement it.”

Only 36 percent approve of the defunding strategy. That is, admittedly, up 5 percentage points from the 31 percent that Mellman wrote about in May, but it’s still no foundation for a winning coalition. 

So why are GOP Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Rand Paul (Ky.), Mike Lee (Utah) and some others so barefaced in their opposition to a 57 percent majority?

First, there is no political consequence for them.

They hail from states that are unlikely to punish them for such anti-majoritarian behavior.

In fact, this stance could pay them big political dividends should they later seek the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. Enough base Republicans could see this as principled behavior that deserves such affirmation that they would hand one of these wannabe defunders the nomination.

But this would ultimately become a dead-end street in the general election. You just cannot kick sand in the eyes of such a strong majority of Americans and not pay the price later on.

This is politics, not religion, so winning counts as much as ideology; yet the calculus for winning a presidential election seemingly cannot be grasped by the Cruz caucus.

I suspect they dismiss this logic by saying that the Kaiser poll numbers are probably wrong. What else would explain such irrational political calculations?

The larger point for developing a non-delusional Republican strategy on ObamaCare is that we must have a better option than defunding.

Long ago, our wiser peers said we should offer an alternative healthcare plan. Embryonic ideas like health savings accounts were floated but never taken too seriously. And the ideas that circulated never garnered too much support in the polls.

But all that is water over the dam. It’s too late to oppose ObamaCare with a comprehensive alternative.

Instead, the best plan might be to make sure that Democrats fully own this flawed plan and to start trying to develop piecemeal remediation for the biggest blunders.

When the exchanges fail, we offer an alternative. When the class inequities are clearest, we offer remedies.

But only after the Democrats are clearly seen as owning these failures. 

Hill is a pollster who has worked for Republican campaigns and causes since 1984.