Is the GOP betting too heavily on ObamaCare's failure?

Republicans seem to be putting a lot of eggs in one basket

(Image credit: (Mark Wilson/Getty Images))

Things aren't looking so great for ObamaCare right now. The new federal online health-insurance marketplace,, is so bad that President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius have both had to apologize for its glitchiness. People receiving ObamaCare-prompted cancellation notices for their current health-care plans are vocally complaining about it to the media.

HHS hasn't released enrollment numbers, but they don't seem promising.

If enough people don't — or can't — sign up for insurance through the new exchanges, ObamaCare will face an existential crisis. Republicans are noting these failings with gusto, and for good reason. The party has made dismantling the law a top priority, against increasingly steeper odds, since the moment it was enacted — with exactly zero Republicans voting in favor.

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In a way, opposing ObamaCare was a decent bet from the start: Private health insurers are hardly the most pleasant businesses to interact with, and ObamaCare effectively forces millions of uninsured people into their unpopular arms. Now that the promised route to making insurance shopping easier and more transparent — — is proving as frustrating as dealing with insurance companies, the GOP is having a fine "told you so" moment.

But some liberal columnists are starting to speculate how the GOP will react if ObamaCare's problems get fixed.

"There's no minimizing the political problems the website is currently creating" for Obama and the Democrats, says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post. And things could get worse. "But one possibility that no one seems to be entertaining is that the current battle could end up seriously backfiring on Republicans." If the website gets fixed in November, enough people enroll, and Americans consider the law a success — "what do Republicans say at that point?"

Continue to push for full repeal, which would wipe away the benefits that these Americans — the very same people Republicans were professing to speak for in expressing outrage over the website — are now enjoying?... Republicans seem absolutely certain that this will inevitably be a long-term political bonanza for them, and that there's simply no chance the law could end up working.... That was partly what led Republicans to adopt the disastrous shutdown strategy. I wouldn't discount the possibility that it could be leading them into another long-term miscalculation right now. [The Washington Post]

Bill Scher makes a similar point at The Week, using Virginia's governor race as an example. Republican Ken Cuccinelli has made his opposition to ObamaCare — and Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe's support — the centerpiece of his campaign, Scher says. And Cuccinelli is losing badly.

This should be a wake-up call to Republicans who thought the shaky Affordable Care Act rollout would shred belief in governmental competence, undermine liberalism, justify conservative obsession with repeal, and infuse Republicans with fresh momentum.... Because as this Virginia race shows, without plausible Republican policy alternatives, Democrats will able to ride out the inevitable hiccups that come with implementing new government programs and avoid any mass anti-government backlash. Simply hating on ObamaCare has not, is not, and will not be a potent political weapon. [The Week]

On CNN, we get to see a Republican actually grappling with the possibility that ObamaCare will succeed. In the clip below, CNN anchor Carol Costello first shows a footage of Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) talking about how ObamaCare is working fine in his state and urging critics and the media to "take a deep breath" — then she interviews ObamaCare critic Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.). Watch:

The liberals' optimism that this will eventually backfire on Republicans is premised on a few risky hopes or assumptions: That the website will be fixed in time; that after its marred rollout, like Medicare, the public will eventually come to view ObamaCare as indispensable (or the precursor to better things); that few enough people will lose under the new system to kneecap it politically; and that Republican alternatives will be even less popular.

At this point, Republicans have few options besides betting on failure, argues Fernando Espuelas at The Hill. "Perhaps the oft-repeated truism that the biggest fear of Tea Party Republicans is that people will actually be happy with the ACA, and thereby fatally undermine their goal of dismantling the social safety net, is correct," he says. Driven by that fear, the GOP has made some politically disastrous decisions recently, and "no amount of faux outrage about ObamaCare website glitches" can make up for those self-inflicted wounds.

That probably overstates the political longevity of political miscalculations. Voters move on pretty quickly, and if ObamaCare proves to be a decent enough success, the GOP will probably adjust and find a new battle to fight — and suffer few long-term political consequences. Medicare didn't kill the GOP; in fact, President George W. Bush expanded it. If they choose, Republicans can even claim that ObamaCare was their idea, first enacted by Republican Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.).

If that day ever happens, it will be a long way off. And none of that helps the GOP today — or in the upcoming 2014 elections. "The disastrous launch of the ObamaCare website is the only lifeline left for the GOP to grab at the moment," says Nina Easton at Fortune. With the party's poll numbers in the toilet after the government shutdown, "it may not be enough."

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