A Conservative Voice That Doesn’t Expect To Be Heard

My old friend Ramesh Ponnuru has offered two interesting bits of advice to his fellow-Republicans from his perch at Bloomberg View in the last two days. The first respectfully asks Jeb Bush not to run for president. The second urges Republicans to take a more strategic view of a possible Supreme Court decision invalidating Obamacare subsidies in 36 states.

Ponnuru’s effort to deflate the tires of the Bush bandwagon before it even begins is interesting in no small part because of his long association with National Review, previously thought to be a redoubt of movement-conservative Jebbie-love. Indeed, Ramesh himself was defending Bush’s viability as a candidate as recently as this last April. But now he just wants Jeb to go away:

Bush’s great disadvantage — the one that to my mind is decisive — is that he would make it impossible for Republicans to run the kind of campaign they need in 2016. The country has been unhappy with national politics for a long time, it is coming to the end of an eight-year presidency, and it is being asked to put the Clintons back in the White House.

Almost any Republican running in 2016 will therefore make the need to turn the page a major theme of his campaign. Rubio — who is young, vigorous and reform-minded — could do that. So could Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, or many other Republicans. Jeb Bush couldn’t.

And that’s why Republicans should hope he doesn’t run, and doesn’t keep more promising candidates from entering the race.

We’ll see soon enough if this represents a broadly-held view on the center-right. But Ponnuru’s other bit of counsel to Republicans is defintely unusual, though we may hear more of it as GOPers stop cutting capers at the idea of a SCOTUS blow against Obamacare and think through what it would mean:

Republicans will have three basic choices.

The first is one that Democrats will presumably demand: that Republicans end the hardship. State legislators and governors will be pressured to create exchanges to get their residents qualified for the tax credits, and Congress will be asked to amend the law. This would solve the immediate problem. But Republicans would and should be loath to go along because it would involve expanding [sic!] a program they consider a colossal mistake.

The second choice would be to do nothing, watch a lot of people suffer, and say that it’s the administration’s fault and not something they’re obliged to do anything about. I suspect that much of the public will, in fact, blame the administration. But Republicans also will look bad if they take this stance, and may find that the pressure to do something grows and grows. In the interim, many people will have been yanked around by the government.

The third choice, which I favor, would be for Republicans to pass bills that take care of the affected people while advancing a much more conservative and sensible set of health-care reforms. The solution, that is, is for Republicans to begin to make good on their promise to replace Obamacare.

So that would mean restoring the subsidies as part of some explicit or implicit deal to “replace” Obamacare with the kind of conservative “alternative” that the “conservative reformer” crowd has embraced but that doesn’t yet have anything like consensus support from the pols. That’s quite a heavy lift, strategically and substantively, and Ramesh gets a little hazy as to how the quid of restoring the subsidies will produce the quo of a “replacement” agenda. But it seems his biggest concern is whether Republicans will be able to overcome the temptation to stupidly cheer the prospective loss of subsidies by millions of people:

Would Republicans respond to the court this way? Will they start co-sponsoring and talking up this legislation now in preparation for a possible ruling? It would be the right thing to do and it would be in their interests.

So probably not.

It could wind up being pretty important to find out if he’s right.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.