Obamacare is succeeding, declared American Prospect blogger Paul Waldman on Thursday, and he predicts that ongoing development will bifurcate Republicans’ approaches to their 2014 congressional campaigns. Waldman thinks that purple-state GOP candidates will refrain from bashing the Affordable Care Act, but red-state candidates will discuss it in “apocalyptic terms” in order to agitate “voters [who] will still get angry every time the word [‘Obamacare’] is spoken.”
Waldman sees that split as part of a “larger Republican dilemma” caused by “the interests of the national GOP [being] at odds with the interests of the bulk of the party's officeholders,” who have to answer to the base. One result of this dilemma, he added, will be that in 2016, the eventual Republican presidential nominee “will face two dramatically different electorates; [i]t's as though they'll be running in Mississippi in the primaries, then in Ohio in the general election.”
From Waldman’s post (emphasis added):
Today the Commonwealth Fund released a new survey on the performance of the Affordable Care Act, and it adds yet more data to the tide of good news…As a number of people have noted,the law's evident success is making it increasingly hard for Republicans to sustain their argument that Obamacare is a disaster and must be immediately repealed. But it's actually a little more complicated than that, and the ways different Republicans are changing—or not changing—their rhetoric on health care is a microcosm of the GOP's fundamental dilemma...
…If you're a candidate in a swing state, it makes less and less sense, particularly as you move from your primary to the general election, to spend your time and ad dollars talking about how awful Obamacare is…
But the calculation is very different if you're running in a more conservative state, and there are lots of close Senate races in those this year, including Kentucky, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Georgia. In many of those places, the GOP candidate knows he can almost win solely with Republican votes. And for base Republicans, the emotional power of Obamacare is immune to factual refutation. No matter how much data we get demonstrating that the law is working well, those voters will still get angry every time the word is spoken. So it's in the candidates' interest to keep on talking about it, in the same apocalyptic terms.
This is where we get to the parallel with the larger Republican dilemma. On issue after issue, the interests of the national GOP are at odds with the interests of the bulk of the party's officeholders, because the latter come from conservative districts or states where political calculations look very different…In the broadest terms, the national party knows it should modernize, but a Republican congressman who won his last general election by 40 points doesn't see much reason to change.
The context where this dynamic will play out most visibly is, of course, in the presidential race, where Republican candidates will face two dramatically different electorates; It's as though they'll be running in Mississippi in the primaries, then in Ohio in the general election.
It's possible that in the next two years things will change in health care, and the ACA will look much worse than it does today. But it seems more likely that current trends will continue, and it'll look even better. Even if that happens, Republican candidates will still need to tell primary voters the law is an abomination that must be cast back into the fiery pits of hell from whence it came. To most voters in the broader electorate, that won't make a lot of sense.