Well, the faux-filibuster that Senate conservatives attempted wasn't enough to stop cloture, but at least we proved a point, right?
Wrong. Still, you can expect that supporters of the "Defund ObamaCare" crusade will likely attempt to spin this as some sort of a moral victory. If anything good happens down the road, they will argue this laid the groundwork for that by "starting the conversation" with the American public about how bad ObamaCare is. I'm not buying it.
Here are five reasons why conservatives are worse off for having fought this battle:
1. Conservatives are more divided as a result. In an era when Republicans have too often been split, opposition to ObamaCare should have been a unifying cause with broad conservative consensus. Instead, conservatives managed to invent a way of making ObamaCare into a divisive issue on the Right. This is a truly remarkable feat. It is like frat brothers fighting over whether or not Giselle is hot. What is more, those who opposed the move based on strategic (not philosophical) grounds were labeled part of the "surrender caucus," and compared to Nazi appeasers. It's gotten so bad that on Thursday morning, Sen. Tom Coburn told MSNBC, "I'm now no longer a conservative according to the standards that have been set by the expectations of this process."
2. There were better, more popular alternatives. Pushing for ObamaCare's implementation to be postponed a year would have been a much easier sell. After all, big business already benefits from the employer mandate having been delayed. Why shouldn't lunch pail workers get the same deal? Obama has already opened the door to delays. In fact, just this week, it was reported that he would "delay online ObamaCare enrollment for small businesses in federally operated health-care exchanges until November 1." As Steve Forbes writes, "A postponement would be immensely popular and would be a huge setback to ObamaCare."
Another more populist approach would have involved forcing elected officials like the president and members of Congress, plus congressional staff, to sign up for ObamaCare and forgo a special exemption that subsidizes their premium payments. Conservative opinion leaders like Charles Krauthammer and David Freddoso have argued this would have been a wiser hill to die on. (This would have allowed Republicans to essentially say that Washington elites must play by the same rules as the American people.)
Aside from picking a battle that might win public support, different positioning might have split the Democratic caucus, putting pressure on vulnerable red state Democrats to take a tough vote. Would Mark Begich and Mark Pryor really want to go on the record with a vote giving D.C. elites special taxpayer-subsidized health-care support?
It's easy to see why conservatives rejected these ideas. They would have caused turmoil and chaos among Democrats. No, it's much better to create division amongst conservatives.
3. It changed the subject from Obama's failings. Think of where we were a week or so ago. President Obama had allowed Syria to cross the red line. His efforts to get congressional approval for intervention had crumbled. Enter Vladimir Putin, who outmaneuvered the president, making him look incredibly weak. But sensing their opponent was in the process of committing suicide, Republicans chose to interfere. The same thing happened after Benghazi when Mitt Romney interrupted the narrative. See the trend? When left to his own devices, President Obama looks small. It is only when he is judged in comparison to Republicans that he appears, in contrast, to be competent and capable.
4. It misled the base. Lying to your supporters is never a good idea. Neither is setting expectations, raising hopes, and then failing to deliver (sort of like saying, "If you cross this red line…"). Unfortunately, the defund idea was always premised on convincing supporters to do something that almost everyone who is knowledgeable and intellectually honest knew was impossible. Some supporters have even posited a Machiavellian rationale: ObamaCare needs to be defeated, but to do so, we have to build lists of supporters. And the only way to build lists of supporters is to manufacture exciting events to get people fired up. Why does this matter? Presumably, you can only cry "wolf" so many times, and the conservative movement will eventually pay a price for misleading the conservative base.
5. It reinforces the negative stereotypes people have about Republicans. Republicans have an image problem, and this reinforces at least two of the worst stereotypes. First, it's a reminder of the recalcitrant "party of 'no.'" It says that, by asking for ridiculous concessions, Republicans aren't interested in governing, but instead, in gridlock. Additionally, this plays into the "war on science" meme. Just as Republican poll "truthers" were shocked — SHOCKED! — to learn that Mitt Romney didn't win by a landslide, they may be equally stunned to discover that — having lost two presidential elections and a Supreme Court decision — they don't have enough votes to stop ObamaCare.
The good news, of course, is that a handful of senators and conservative groups made a lot of money and garnered a lot of press. So I guess that's something.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How U.S. special forces are preparing for the worst-case scenario in North Korea
- I hate Ayn Rand — but here's why my fellow conservatives love her
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- Hey, Paul Ryan's new poverty plan isn't completely terrible!
- The 11 worst fast food restaurants in America
- The secret to Gabrielle Hamilton's amazing grilled cheese sandwiches
- Deficit scolds are the most crazed ideologues in America
- The weird obsession that's ruining the GOP
- The disturbing lessons of Arizona's un-American execution
- 7 things the world's happiest people do every day
Subscribe to the Week