This will be especially important when it comes to repealing Obamacare, the first step of which is: Do not announce that you are repealing Obamacare. The smart way to repeal Obamacare is to revisit the legislation and to amend it in ways that remove the worst of its statist overreach and replace it with the best available free-market alternatives. The Wyden-Ryan approach is one possible model for amending Obamacare, but it is not the only one, and it is not sufficient by itself. In any case, it will be more effective to amend the legislation in such a way that it is effectively repealed and replaced than to have an emotionally satisfying but probably unwinnable fight over repeal per se. The Supreme Court may give Republicans an assist on this by ruling against the mandate, which, regardless of any additional rulings about the remainder of the legislation, would render the entire package economically unworkable and necessitate reopening the case. This, too, probably will be easier to accomplish with a bloodless manager such as Romney at the helm than an ideological flamethrower.
In the next four years, Republicans should pass a major fiscal-consolidation package that balances the budget, and replace Obamacare in the course of enacting a broader entitlement-reform program. That’s a lot of work. That is the necessary domestic agenda. It requires winning, first of all, but it also requires getting some congressional Democrats on board and winning some support from Democrats and independents in the electorate. That will not feel good, but it is necessary.
For conservatives, it is a question of whether we choose a president based on who he is or based on what he can do. Those conservatives who believe that the way forward is to nominate the anti-Obama hold that Americans are so fed up with the president that they are ready to elevate a hardcore ideologue to the presidency. Andy McCarthy is representative of them when he writes that Gingrich is a “plausible candidate this time around, when in many cycles he would not be, because the main issue is Obama’s radicalism — the president has people frightened enough that what would appear to be insurmountable baggage in some elections could be cancelled out this time around.” But who are these frightened Americans for whom “the main issue” in 2012 is going to be Obama’s so-called radicalism? (And what do we call the 35 percent of Americans who support a Canadian-style single-payer health-care system? Insurgents?) Are we so sure of their support? In what states do they live, and why do they fail to show up in the polling data, which consistently find that voters’ main concerns are the economy, jobs, and related issues?
As the original campaign consultant put it, the critical thing in every battle is to know your enemy, to know yourself, and to know the terrain. That means, among other things, refusing to tell yourself fairy tales about how everybody is really on your side and just waiting to discover the fact.
— Kevin D. Williamson is a deputy managing editor of National Review.