Mixed messages and the repeal trap

MIXED MESSAGES AND THE REPEAL TRAP…. So, which is it? If health care reform passes — by no means a foregone conclusion — will Republicans make repealing it a central part of the GOP’s 2010 campaign strategy?

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is certain this will be part of the party’s midterm message.

Senate Republicans will do everything they can to block health care legislation until it finally passes, and promise to repeal it on the campaign trail this fall, the GOP’s Senate campaign chief told reporters today.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said in a press briefing at the Ronald Reagan Republican Center today that … his candidates in competitive races from California to Florida “should and will run on” repealing the legislation.

Also this morning, Cornyn isn’t certain this will be part of the party’s midterm message.

An interesting moment on MSNBC this morning: NRSC chief John Cornyn twice declined to say whether the platform for Republican Senate candidates this year should include a call for repeal of health care reform, should it pass.

This could irk some folks on the right, who have insisted that GOP candidates must campaign on a vow of a full repeal, or else.

Substantively, repeal isn’t realistic. Unless Republicans suddenly get supermajorities in both chambers and convince President Obama and Vice President Biden to step down, making room for President Boehner in 2011, the policy, if passed into law, isn’t going anywhere.

But that doesn’t explain the mixed message from Cornyn this morning. The problem, which the NRSC chief is loath to acknowledge, is that repeal is a) a political loser; and b) an inconvenient demand from the Republican base.

Popular consumer protections would kick in immediately if reform becomes law — including a ban on discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, the elimination of rescissions, a ban on annual or lifetime caps, etc. — and voters will likely be reluctant to give them up. Indeed, Democratic candidates would likely use these new protections to go on the offensive, giving pro-reform Dems something to brag about, and anti-reform Republicans a position they might struggle to justify.

Some GOP candidates are willing to back a partial repeal, but for the right-wing base, partial isn’t good enough. As Josh Marshall noted recently, “After all, if it’s really the end of the universe, America and Apple Pie, as Republicans have been suggesting, it’s hard to say you just want to tinker at the margins.”

As we’ve been talking about, it puts Republican candidates in a box. Democrats are going to ask, “Are you really going to fight to repeal protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions? Are you really going to take coverage away from 30 million middle-class Americans?” If Republicans say “no,” they alienate the GOP activists who will settle for nothing but a full repeal. If Republicans say “yes,” they alienate the mainstream electorate.

But the only way to set the repeal trap is to pass the damn bill.