Earlier this week I pointed out the structural issues that were likely to make the 2014 and 2016 election cycles a real roller coaster. But there are psychological factors, too, as conservative columnist Mike Gerson fretfully acknowledges at WaPo today:
The problems of Obamacare are likely (and perversely) to delay any serious ideological repositioning of the Republican Party. The argument will be: “Why take any risk of dividing the GOP with, say, an immigration reform push, or a health reform alternative, when Democrats are in the process of self-destructing?”
Republicans have a serious prospect of retaining control of the House and regaining control of the Senate in November — assuming that tea party challenges don’t knock off some of their stronger Senate candidates. The generic congressional ballot is increasingly favorable to Republicans. It is the probability of losing elections that forces parties to creatively alter their appeal. The failures of Obamacare, in short, reinforce Republican ideological timidity, at least at the congressional level.
The central problem for the GOP is a split political personality. For congressional Republicans, ideological timidity is a reasonable, short-term electoral strategy. For Republicans concerned about retaking the presidency in 2016, it is wholly insufficient. There is an urgent need to reposition the party with minorities, women and the young. Pointing and laughing at the failures of Obamacare will not be a sufficient governing vision.
Now you have to laugh at Gerson’s characterization of snarling, atavistic conservatives as “ideologically timid.” And Gerson ignores the structural issues that have Republicans optimistic about 2014, and would do so even if Obamacare was wildly popular.
But he’s right about the basic point: GOP strategy for 2014 is at odds with GOP strategy for 2016, and worse yet, most Republicans have an enormous emotional stake in refusing to acknowledge the problem. So they can’t and won’t deal with it.