Way back in June 2014, GOP political guru and long-running Twitter joke Karl Rove wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal advising the Republican Party on how to successfully run against the Affordable Care Act in the midterm elections. President Obama’s health law was a “liberal calamity,” Rove argued, and Republican candidates “should draw attention to the law's pernicious effects on ordinary Americans.” But merely attacking the law wouldn’t cut it, Rove cautioned – the party also had to sketch out a plan for what it would do to replace Obamacare:
By humanizing ObamaCare's shortfalls through stories from ordinary people, Republicans will help explode the myth of liberal competence and compassion, keep this issue fresh through the fall and cause voters to hold Democrats accountable at the polls.
Putting ObamaCare in the center of their campaigns will also force GOP candidates to spell out what they would do instead of ObamaCare. Americans do not want to return to the broken status quo in place before Mr. Obama made an even bigger mess of our health-care system.
Rove, of course, came nowhere close to explaining what the politically appealing Republican alternative would look like. His advice was simply that the GOP had to have an alternative. Smart take, politics man! And Republican candidates happily ignored this advice as they cruised to a midterm romp without ever expanding their health care message beyond “Obamacare sucks.”
Now here we are, almost a year later, and Karl Rove is once again writing that Republicans need to have an Obamacare replacement lined up. Funnily enough, his reasons why have shifted. Back during the campaign, Obamacare was an unmitigated disaster that everyone hated and Republicans needed an alternative to contrast with the failure of liberal big government. Now, with the pending Supreme Court decision in King v. Burwell threatening to void Obamacare’s insurance subsidies to the majority of states, Rove is warning that the GOP will take it on the chin politically if they don’t step in with something to make up for the loss of those precious Obamacare resources:
If the Supreme Court holds in King v. Burwell that the Affordable Care Act—also known as ObamaCare—does not allow subsidies for health coverage to flow through federal insurance exchanges, Republicans better be ready to say what to do next. Under such a decision, roughly eight million Americans in three dozen states would lose subsidies worth thousands of dollars. Many would suddenly find it impossible to pay for the insurance plan they’re on now.
President Barack Obama will then accuse conservative justices of overreaching and demand that the GOP Congress immediately extend subsidies to every state. His message will be politically potent, as it will turn the words of Republicans in 2013 back on them: “If you like your plan,” Republicans said, “you should be able to keep your plan.” Hillary Clinton will join in depicting Republicans as heartless brutes who would let people die for lack of health insurance rather than fix Mr. Obama’s law.
“Fortunately,” Rove writes, there are several GOP plans bouncing around Congress. “The challenge,” he adds, “will be to build consensus for one bill, choosing from the many ideas now being discussed.” Of course, that’s been the “challenge” facing Republicans for over half a decade now: they all hate Obamacare, but they can’t come anywhere close to agreeing on what they should do instead. Some of the plans Rove mentions in his column have been floating around Congress in some form for years, but they’ve never gained widespread support within the party. And yet, the presumption that Republicans are on the cusp of resolving this heretofore intractable policy fight never seems to fade. The Republican Obamacare alternative is just around the corner, always and forever.
Here, in these two Karl Rove columns, is a perfect encapsulation of Republican health care policy: declare the need for an Obamacare replacement, acknowledge the difficulty in arriving at a consensus, do nothing because the political lift is too heavy, repeat as needed.