The right's Virginia delusion: Somehow, a Democratic win is bad for Obamacare!

The truth: Cuccinelli's anti-women positions were far more disqualifying than McAuliffe's pro-healthcare stance

By Brian Beutler

Published November 6, 2013 4:37PM (EST)

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli             (AP/Steve Helber)
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (AP/Steve Helber)

It was fun waking up this morning and witnessing the various ways Republicans across the spectrum are contorting themselves to argue that Obamacare was the one thing preventing Terry McAuliffe -- World's Most Likable Democrat™ -- from winning an off-year landslide in a statewide race in Virginia.

Everything else is noise, but that Obamacare is the single greatest political liability to either party in the country! Some of the people repeating this mantra must know it's silly, but are engaging in political psy-ops -- hoping to spook Democrats, and trick them into fracturing over the issue or undermining the law.

But the phenomenon is also a twist on the question begging conservatives engage in to ward off all sources of ideological doubt. Conservatism can't fail, it can only be failed. Republicans have invested too much in a scorched Earth campaign against the Affordable Care Act to acknowledge that their strategy is out of proportion to the law's contentiousness. And as unrelenting hostility toward Obamacare has become a tenet of conservative orthodoxy, relenting somewhat would amount to more than simply confessing to strategic error. It would require conceding a failure of infallible conservatism. Thus anti-Obamacare absolutism can't fail, it can only be failed. Arguing that Ken Cuccinelli's defeat is bad news for Obamacare isn't just psy-ops. For some, it's a preservation instinct.

In the event that liberals overdetermine last night's elections as a victory in a referendum on Obamacare, though, I want to associate myself with Greg Sargent's comments here.

The Virginia gubernatorial election wasn't a referendum on Obamacare, per se. It was a referendum on the idea that Obamacare is such a policy abomination that meeting it with Leninist tactics isn't just critical to the cause of liberty -- it's good politics too.

The truth is that if Obamacare were as bad as Republicans have convinced conservatives it is, McAuliffe probably would have lost. To understand why, imagine he'd run on a platform of secession, or imposing a broad-based state income tax hike with a 75 percent top marginal rate, or turning the Pentagon into a purple triangle and selling it to Pennsylvania at a discount. Be creative. Or if you want to be less absurd, imagine he'd run on a platform of getting an Obamacare exemption for Virginia by standing up a single-payer system in the state. Elections are driven by fundamentals, but you can imagine any number of parochial or national positions McAuliffe could have taken in the campaign that would have been disqualifying.

Conservatives believe -- need to believe -- that supporting Obamacare implementation is similarly disqualifying. But it just isn't. Not in states like Virginia and therefore not nationally. For the minority of GOP base voters who feel this strongly, there are a greater number of liberal and moderate voters who like the law or want to see it implemented and improved. In between there are plenty of people who don't like it much but aren't committed to its destruction like conservative jihadis. That's the whole game. Cuccinelli's positions on women's issues were much more disqualifying than McAuliffe's view that Virginia should accept billions of federal dollars to provide healthcare to poor people.

Republicans remain unable to admit this. And I suppose if they want to allow the fantasists in their party to lead them by the nose, that's their business. Democrats probably won't try to stop them. But it's a huge bummer. The Affordable Care Act will ultimately help a lot of people. It has the potential to do much more, though, and would help more people sooner if Republicans would just get out of the way.

Brian Beutler

Brian Beutler is Salon's political writer. Email him at and follow him on Twitter at @brianbeutler.

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2013 Elections Affordable Care Act Gop Ken Cuccinelli Obamacare Pundits Terry Mcauliffe The Right Virginia