The right's day-after freakout: Conservatives fail to grapple with new Obamacare reality

The campaign to discourage Obamacare enrollment failed miserably -- and now the haters don't have a new plan

Published April 1, 2014 2:41PM (EDT)

  (AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Chris Usher/Timothy D. Easley)
(AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Chris Usher/Timothy D. Easley)

The two dominant reactions on the right to the news this morning that ACA exchange enrollment cleared 7 million last night are as follows:

1). Those Chicago guys are cooking the books.

2). Even granting an enrollment surge, people were required to buy insurance, so, hey, great victory.

These are doubly incompatible talking points. The former alleges the enrollees don't exist but hints at the idea that genuinely high enrollment would have been a big victory for the administration (presumably because having health insurance is a good thing). The latter allows that the enrollees might exist but suggests they only showed up because they had to, not because the product is something they want.

I'll allow opponents of the law to sort out which version of events they prefer. But just to lay down a marker, it is possible for conservatives to come to grips with the new reality without making up implausible stories about how we got here.

This can be done in two ways. First, by basically accepting that this is the end of the line for repeal. My pal Peter Suderman shows how that's done.

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[embedtweet id=450989662744899584]

Over time I expect most conservatives will, like Suderman, acknowledge that the law is too deeply rooted to just scream "repeal!" at, or to attack with horror stories without viable modifications, or a comprehensive alternative in mind.

But clearly some aren't ready to give up the fight just yet, even if their only option at this point is to aim their ordnance at themselves:

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The idea here is to flood the ACA risk pools with high-cost beneficiaries in order to destroy their actuarial balances. It's is reminiscent (though obviously the inverse) of 60s-era new left strategies to overload the welfare state, and thus force Congress to establish a more uniform and more generous anti-poverty program. It is also weapons-grade stupid.

For starters, anyone who has health problems and qualifies for "free ObamaCare" should obviously sign up. That's why the law is there. But most people with health problems who already had insurance most likely obtained it because the government, or their employers (subsidized by the government), provided it. And Obamacare wouldn't be free to such people, because they'd generally be ineligible for its subsidies.

So obviously this kind of thing isn't going to work. But it does illustrate how reactionary and unthinking some conservatives have allowed their Obamacare opposition to become -- that they'd push their older, sicker fellow travelers toward a (for them) unsubsidized health system with the intention of destroying it, thus leaving those people with … nothing! This is a bit like holding bank customers hostage by strapping dynamite to yourself.

But it does suggest that hard-line conservatives understand at some level that the campaign to discourage enrollment failed (or, perhaps, wasn't effective enough) and that they need a new plan. What they don't seem to recognize is that the relative success of the enrollment campaign has left them strategically adrift.

By Brian Beutler

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

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