A muddled repeal message

A MUDDLED REPEAL MESSAGE…. While Republican lawmakers tend to struggle in some areas (substance, honesty, integrity, seriousness of purpose, decency), they are not without strengths. As a rule, their most impressive quality is message discipline.

The GOP Powers That Be will decide what party officials and their allies are supposed to say, and Republicans tend to follow the marching orders extremely well. The GOP shapes much of the discourse simply by getting its members to all say the exact same thing, over and over again.

At the same time, however, when Republicans are struggling, it’s obvious — they start muddling their message. Take the health care “repeal” push, for example.

“We will work in every way to repeal this legislation and start over,” said House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence, of Indiana.

Moments later, however, Pence said the House GOP was in favor of “repealing and replacing Obamacare with an approach that gives Americans more choices instead of more government.”

“There are small elements of the legislation that’s moving forward that Republicans have always supported,” he said.

Got that? The whole package has to go — except for those good parts. Which provisions of the new law do Republicans like and plan to keep? They’ll have to get back to us on that.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) wants to repeal the whole thing, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is only interested in repealing the “egregious parts.” Reps. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Steve King (R-Iowa) demand a full repeal, while National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (R-Tex.) wants to leave the “non-controversial stuff” alone.

Mitt Romney wants to scrap the whole package, while Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) declared, “We always said there are things that we can all agree on in the bill.”

Rep. Phil Gringrey (R-Ga.) “does not want” to repeal the whole thing, and Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) see partial repeal as more realistic than the full repeal some of their GOP colleagues are pushing.

Republicans, in other words, are already finding themselves stuck in the repeal trap we’ve been talking about for months. Party leaders continue to characterize the new law as “Armageddon,” but are grudgingly coming to believe some parts of Armageddon may not be that bad after all.

Democrats are not only thrilled, they’re seizing on Republicans’ discomfort. The DSCC has even set up a “new feature designed to make it easier to track who’s called for repeal and who hasn’t.”

It took a while, but the trap has been set. Republicans can either infuriate their base (which has been misled about health care from the start), or they can alienate the mainstream electorate.