Arminda Murillo, 54, reads a leaflet at a health insurance enrollment event in Cudahy, Calif., March 27, 2014.
Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Despite robust Obamacare numbers, many GOPers reignite repeal debate


It may be time for the GOP to adopt a new midterm campaign strategy.

While the Obama administration botched the rollout of, just a few months later, the Affordable Care Act is undoubtedly rebounding. Indeed, the president announced last week that 8 million people have signed up for health insurance through the federal exchanges – surpassing the administration’s 7 million goal. Still, Republicans aren’t loosening their grip on what they see as one of their most winning midterm issues.

Republican National Committee (RNC) Communications Director Sean Spicer said over the weekend that Obamacare “is still the number one, number two and number three issue going into this election.” 

RNC spokesman Raffi Williams added, “President Obama may be content to take a victory lap, but Americans are still left with more questions than answer when it comes to the true impact of ObamaCare. How many of the 8 million have actually paid their premiums? How many Americans will be hit with skyrocketing premiums next year? And what relief does President Obama have for the millions of Americans who have lost their doctors, their existing health plans, and their economic opportunities due to ObamaCare? With so many questions waiting to be answered, it’s no wonder the President’s signature law remains so unpopular.” 

The RNC also released a web video Friday after Obama’s announcement of the new numbers, in which the commander-in-chief said it was time for Republicans to “move on” from his health care legislation and on to more pressing matters. The GOP’s spot titled “Not Time To Move On” contrasts Obama’s desire to put the program’s troubles in the rearview mirror to reports of Americans who lost their coverage or saw their premiums jump under the legislation.

Disrupt With Karen Finney, 4/19/14, 4:44 PM ET

GOP vs. Dems on ACA: will the fighting stop?

Zerlina Maxwell, Jamelle Bouie, Dana Milbank and McKay Coppins join Karen Finney to discuss the latest Affordable Care Act enrollment figures, the GOP’s response and if Democrats will change from defense to offense on the issue of Obamacare.
Zerlina Maxwell, Jamelle Bouie, Dana Milbank and McKay Coppins join Karen Finney to discuss the latest Affordable Care Act enrollment figures, the GOP’s response and if Democrats will change from defense to offense on the issue of Obamacare.

Similarly, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas – who spearheaded a move last year to defund Obamacare and in the process drove a government shutdown – tweeted Friday, “The repeal debate is far from over. #FullRepeal.” House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy said in a statement that “Republicans cannot and will not accept this law.” And House Majority Leader Eric Cantor indicated he was skeptical about the numbers, releasing a statement Friday saying, “If the president is so confident in his numbers, there is no reason not to release transparent and complete enrollment data.”

It’s not hard to see why the GOP doesn’t want to let go of Obamacare. For years, Republicans have trounced Democrats in the messaging wars over the health care law, and as a result, polls have continually shown that Americans are skeptical about the program. But surveys also indicate that more Americans would rather keep the legislation than throw it out completely.

According to a new Kaiser study, six in 10 Americans said Congress should either improve Obamacare or keep it the way it is. Less than three in 10 wanted to repeal the law or replace it with a GOP-endorsed plan.

So, is going full steam ahead against Obamacare – as the GOP did in the 2012 and 2010 election cycles – still a smart strategy? The GOP-controlled House has unsuccessfully tried to repeal or change the health care law more than 50 times. Now that Obamacare is here and millions have signed up, is threatening to take that insurance away a good move?

Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg, who’s also editor and publisher of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report, told CNN on Sunday that it’s difficult to see how the GOP can run an entire campaign against Obamacare. “I think the cake has been baked [on Obamacare],” he said. “I don’t think there are a bunch of people changing their opinions now … they’ve got to talk about growth and jobs.”

There are signs Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky – who’s up for re-election in a competitive race – is softening his tone on the issue in a state where sign-ups for Obamacare have surpassed the 400,000 mark. Yes, McConnell has repeatedly called for repealing the law, but during a talk with health care workers in his state last week, McConnell acknowledged that a repeal was unlikely under Obama and instead focused on improving the law. “We’re going to figure out a way to get this fixed,” he said, according to The Madison Courier.

Of course, the 2014 strategy depends on where you live. Purple-state Democrats in tight races, like Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, put forth legislation to make Obamacare “work better.” And in blue Oregon—which has had a shaky Obamacare rollout – Republicans are seeing an opening, hoping to take advantage with pediatric neurosurgeon candidate Monica Wehby to unseat Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkeley. Wehby has made her opposition to Obamacare a cornerstone to her campaign.

But it’s difficult to argue for repealing and replacing Obamacare without an alternative road map.

According to a poll from Reuters/Ipsos released last week, 32% of respondents said they trust Democrats more on health care plans, policy, or approach compared to 18% for Republicans. From February, that’s an increase for the Dems and a dip for the GOP.

Ipsos pollster Chris Jackson said “Democrats have not managed to have a huge lead over Republicans so much as Republicans have managed to damage their own position and stay behind Democrats. That’s because people don’t view the Republican Party as standing for any particular health care system.”