To minimize the damage, the party must redefine victory as something less than a full defunding of the 3-year-old health care law, yet persuade the most conservative GOP supporters that Republican lawmakers succumbed after a principled fight. All without triggering a government shutdown or a default by the Treasury, or otherwise offending independents whose ballots will settle the 2014 elections.
Already, party leaders are making that effort. “I just don’t happen to think filibustering a bill that defunds Obamacare is the best route to defunding Obamacare,” Sen. Mitch McConnell said archly Tuesday. “All it does is shut down the government and keep Obamacare funded.”
That was one day after rejecting the path outlined by the party’s rebel-in-chief, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — who began a speaking marathon on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon in which he said politicians in both parties routinely ignore the voters’ wishes.
Seeking to turn the heat on to Democrats, McConnell said that four years ago they voted for the health care law with the “excuse that they didn’t know how it would turn out. Well, they don’t have that excuse now. I think we deserve to know where they stand now.”
In addition to the future of health care and a possible government shutdown, the perennial struggle for raw political power is at the root of the struggle.
Republicans will need to pick up six seats in 2014 to win control of the Senate, a tall hurdle but not impossibly so. The party out of power in the White House historically has won an average of three to four seats in midterm elections since 1934, and Democrats are defending a half-dozen in difficult circumstances.
In the House, the GOP holds a 233-200 majority with two vacancies, and the historical trends show a 27-seat gain in midterm elections for the party locked out of the White House.