GOP's hilarious plagiarism flap: Why Monica Wehby's healthcare debacle has them fuming

Monica Wehby cribbed her health plan from a Karl Rove survey. How a one-time healthcare "policy wonk" bottomed out

Published September 18, 2014 4:30PM (EDT)

Monica Wehby       (AP/Steve Dykes)
Monica Wehby (AP/Steve Dykes)

Earlier this week, Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski reported out the fairly bizarre story of Oregon Republican Senate candidate Monica Wehby and the health plan that she plagiarized from Crossroads GPS. Her candidacy has long been a favorite of conservative pundits who convinced themselves that Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon running in a state that had an especially rough experience with the Affordable Care Act rollout, was ideally positioned to campaign hard on health policy and take down Democratic incumbent Jeff Merkley.

The Wehby campaign’s attempts to brush off the Buzzfeed story were inept and made the situation worse. At first they denied everything. “The suggestion that a pediatric neurosurgeon needs to copy a health care plan from American Crossroads is absurd,” a spokesman told Kaczynski, throwing in this gloriously passive-aggressive kicker: “Dr. Wehby is too busy performing brain surgery on sick children to respond, sorry.”

Then came the inevitable reckoning: the campaign pulled the plan from the website and copped to the plagiarism, blaming it all on Wehby’s former campaign manager, Charlie Pearce, who denies everything. Now Kaczynski is reporting that Wehby also plagiarized portions of her economic plan from Sen. Rob Portman. You could say all this would hurt Wehby’s chances at victory, but things didn’t look good for her to begin with. Nearly every public poll of the Oregon Senate race has given Merkley a double-digit lead. A Koch-funded outside spending group recently abandoned its plans to air anti-Merkley attack ads in October. Whatever chance at victory she might have has all but vanished.

What makes this whole strange scenario even funnier is that while Wehby promoted herself as a staunch Obamacare opponent, conservatives actually hated Wehby’s health plan and had deep suspicions about her on health care in general. During the Republican primary, she was attacked by her Tea Party challenger for having said nice things about a health plan proposed by Oregon’s other Democratic senator, Ron Wyden. And for all her talk of “repealing” Obamacare, she also wanted to keep the parts of it that polled well and would often talk about “fixing” the law, as opposed to doing away with it altogether.

The talk of “fixing” Obamacare drew the critical attention of National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru, who wrote a scathing piece for Bloomberg in June arguing that Wehby was simply taking “the popular side of every health-care question” and had thus “come up with a plan that doesn't hang together” and “works at cross-purposes with itself.” Ponnuru’s piece drew angry an response from Charlie Pearce, who was still directing Wehby’s campaign at that time, asking if Ponnuru had even read Wehby’s plan. “I read Wehby's plan more than once,” Ponnuru wrote in response. “No matter how many times I read it, though, I couldn't make it make sense.” Now we know why he couldn’t make sense of it: it was little more than conservative messaging points repurposed as policy.

As for the pundits who hyped Wehby’s candidacy, their prognostications aren’t looking so hot. George Will wrote in July that very few doctors serve in Congress, “but another doctor may be coming, straight from the operating room to her first elected office.” In May, the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel called Wehby the “Democrats’ worst nightmare,” citing her alleged health policy chops. “She's a policy wonk, able to run rings around Oregon's junior senator, especially on health-care reform,” Strassel wrote. The fact that Wehby’s health policy was pinched from a poll conducted by Karl Rove is, therefore, hilarious.

By Simon Maloy

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