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Dionne: Is GOP ending its fling with the tea party?

  • (MIKE SMITH / Las Vegas Sun)

The botched rollout of the health care law has called forth some good news: Republicans are so confident they can ride anti-Obamacare sentiment to electoral victory that they're growing ever-more impatient with the tea party's fanaticism. Immigration reform may be the result.

The GOP is looking like a person emerging from a long binge and asking, “Why did I do that?”

The moment of realization came when last fall's government shutdown cratered the party's polling numbers. Staring into the abyss can be instructive. For the first time since 2010, the middle of the House Republican caucus — roughly 100 of its 233 members — began worrying less about primaries from right-wing foes and more about losing their majority status altogether.

Obamacare's troubles reinforced the flight from the brink. House Speaker John Boehner is telling his rank-and-file that they can win the 2014 elections simply by avoiding the stupid mistakes their more-ferocious colleagues keep urging them to make. In this view, the health insurance issue will take care of everything, provided Republicans end their tea party fling.

In fact, it's an illusion for the GOP to think that bashing Obamacare is an elixir, especially if Democrats embrace and defend the law. Now that its benefits are fully kicking in, Republicans should be asked persistently, “Who do you want to throw off health insurance?”

Also: Do you want to go back to denying people coverage for pre-existing conditions? And: What about those 3 million young adults now on their parents' health plans? “Repeal Obamacare” is not as popular as it seems in GOP bastions.

Nonetheless, some illusions are useful. Boehner is using them aggressively. The immigration principles he announced at his caucus's retreat last week in Cambridge, Md., are a breakthrough because they are potentially more elastic than they sound. This is why many immigration reform advocates were elated, and why President Barack Obama, sensing what was coming, offered not a hint of partisanship on the issue in his State of the Union address.

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