KOS: GOP’s health law conflict

For a crowd so recently hell-bent on “repeal” of the new healthcare law, Republicans sure have lost their swagger.

It wasn’t long ago that Mark Kirk, the Republican nominee for Senate in Illinois, was bragging to his Republican audience at a GOP dinner about his commitment to defeating any healthcare reform measure, and promising the happy crowd that he would “lead the effort” to repeal the law if elected to the Senate. The boast was in line with the Club for Growth repeal pledge he had happily signed, which read, “I hereby pledge to the people of my state to sponsor and support legislation to repeal any federal healthcare takeover passed in 2010, and replace it with real reforms that lower healthcare costs without growing government.”

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His Republican base cheered that promise, but unfortunately for Kirk, his words were recorded and splashed all over the Illinois media. And in this blue state, that promise was poorly received by the broader electorate. Kirk’s campaign went into lockdown mode, refusing to answer questions about Kirk’s promised repeal leadership. Finally, last week, Kirk meekly responded, “I voted against it, but we lost. My job is to explain how this will affect voters.” Kirk had quickly learned that whatever the law’s flaws, voters had little appetite to backtrack on whatever progress was made.

As one of his state’s most famous and beloved personalities, movie critic Roger Ebert, tweeted, “ ‘Illinois GOP congressional candidate Mark Kirk will restore pre-existing conditions!’ What a great campaign ad.”

Of course, Kirk’s sudden cowardice on the issue didn’t go over well with those conservatives he had worked so hard to woo. The conservative Club for Growth was quick to pounce. “He said that he’s going to do this,” said a spokesman. “We expect him to live up to his pledge.” Pinched from the right and from the center, Kirk suddenly finds himself trailing his Democratic opponent, Alexi Giannoulias, despite a banking scandal that has bedeviled the Democrat.

Indeed, there is clearly little sentiment in favor of repeal outside of Tea Party circles. In the weekly Daily Kos poll conducted by Research 2000, we started asking last week, “Would you be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports and will work to improve the new healthcare reform law, or a candidate who will work to repeal it completely?” The maiden results shows that 48 percent of respondents would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported the new law, as opposed to 36 percent for the repeal candidate. Among independents, 43 percent opted for the supporter, compared to just 35 percent choosing the repeal candidate. There’s a reason why, when asked about repeal, President Obama dared the GOP to do it: “My attitude is, go for it.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which bitterly fought the law, has already announced it won’t push for repeal. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has spent the last few weeks trying to back his party away from repeal. Rather than repeal, he argues that “the focus really should be on the misplaced priorities of the administration.” Sage advice, no doubt, but weak sauce, and certainly not what conservative activists want to hear.

Having been convinced that the healthcare law is socialism incarnate, spelling death and doom for grandmas everywhere, these activists continue to demand nothing short of full repeal. With its teabagger flank screaming on the issue, the GOP will find itself in a hard place — between placating its base and remaining electorally viable.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos (dailykos.com).