More from my recent chat with Joe Scarborough, host of Morning Joe, about his new book, The Right Path: From Ike to Reagan, How Republicans Once Mastered Politics — And Can Again.
Geraghty: One of the arguments that came out of the 2012 elections was that the GOP was out of touch with a voting public that was much more comfortable with activist government than Republicans were. All the way through the government shutdown, it looked like this was a major gap between the Republican base and the electorate at large. Now along comes Obamacare’s implementation. Is this a long-term game changer in the way Americans see government, or are Republicans whistling past the graveyard if they think Obamacare will provide the road to victory in 2014 and 2016?
Scarborough: The morning that Obamacare passed, I said I thought we had reached the high-water mark of American liberalism. That it was an overreach — it was an overreach politically and in terms of policy. [Washington Post columnist] David Ignatius, on my program a couple weeks ago, basically said the same thing. It took a lot of people in Washington to realize that jamming something like Obamacare down the American public’s throats, having to blow through and basically wipe out the filibuster and pass something this sweeping with only Democratic votes — it was doomed to fail from the start.
Another thing on this RINO charge, you will never find me saying, ‘Oh, gee, the Republican party is failing because it’s not progressive enough on safety net issues’ or ;‘it’s not progressive enough on immigration on all these issues.’ I believe in my heart, Americans are small-government conservatives, but they’re also conservatives with a small ‘c.’
If you take what George W. Bush did over eight years, his brand of big-government Republicanism, where we doubled the national debt, we passed a $7 trillion Medicare prescription-drug benefit plan, and then you put on top of that the bank bailouts, basically three pages of paper, and then the stimulus that no Democrat read before voting for it, and then Obamacare, that radically transformed one-eighth of the economy — and you pass that in a way where Nancy Pelosi is saying, ‘We have to pass it in order to see what’s in it.’
I was skeptical from the start that all of this was a winning position for Democrats. And it’s not. But the problem is, we have to do more than just try to beat something with nothing. We have to do what [then-representative John] Kasich did in 1994, and present an alternative budget. Back in 1994, we presented three alternatives to Hillary’s health-care plan. We have to come up with a strong governing philosophy in a way that we did in the early 1990s and that Reagan did in 1980.
Geraghty: One of the great fears among conservatives, that drove their position during the government shutdown, was that if they didn’t stop Obamacare right then and there, they might never get a chance to repeal it. Now the law is turning out to be pretty darn unpopular. But one of the big pieces is the expansion of Medicaid — and once you put people on a government program, you create a constituency, and it becomes very difficult to ever roll back an entitlement. Should Republicans push for a repeal of the Medicaid expansion?
Scarborough: Let’s be really blunt about it: If the entitlements are middle-class entitlements, those entitlements are very hard to push back. But Medicaid is not a middle-class entitlement. You’re not going to see AARP and special-interest groups going out and using Medicaid to beat up candidates, left or right.
It’s so pressing that the Republican party comes up with one idea for health-care reform. Maybe it’s Tom Coburn’s approach, which I like. But they need to come up with one approach to health-care reform and start fighting for that, and start repealing portions of Obamacare . . .
I think Obamacare is going to die a death of a thousand cuts. I don’t think it’s going to be in one great glorious battle. I think over time, we’ll see continuing pecking at it like we’ve seen in the past several months. There will be times when we need to be aggressive in what we’re doing, and there will be times where we just have to stay the hell away. And I think this is one of those times we need to stay the hell out of the away, and let Barack Obama own health-care reform over the next six months, and at some point we’ll see if he wants to sit down with Republicans, and listen to some of our ideas.