August off to an awkward start for the GOP

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Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) received some unexpected pressure from the far-right this week, when he told constituents he’s strongly opposed to the Affordable Care Act, but he doesn’t want to shut down the government. For his conservative constituents, that’s simply unacceptable – Pittenger’s many votes to repeal “Obamacare” aren’t enough to satisfy the right, which wants GOP lawmakers to go much further.

As it turns out, Pittenger isn’t the only one.

In this clip, Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) was also pressed by a constituent on whether he’s prepared to vote against any funding bill that includes funding for Obamacare.” As Jonathan Cohn explained:

The question draws strong applause from the audience. Schock says he shares the frustration with Obamacare, calling it “an extremely flawed bill” and supporting repeal. But shutting down the government, Schock goes on to explain, would be an extreme step – one that would have harsh consequences for average Americans. “If you’re going to take a hostage,” Schock says, “you gotta be willing to shoot it.” Another attendee quickly quipped, “kill it.”

As Aviva Shen noted, there was a similar scene in Nebraska at an event hosted by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R). When the congressman said he rejected a Republican plan to trigger a government shutdown, a constituent drew applause by arguing, “[W]e elected Republicans to fight for more conservative policies.”

GOP officials had fairly specific hopes for the August recess. Having conservatives complaining that Republicans aren’t far-right enough on health care wasn’t part of the plan.

Indeed, let’s not forget that the ideal scenario for Republicans was for far-right activists to show up at town-hall meetings and shout at Democrats, about health care and other issues. But as the August recess gets underway, these early reports suggest far-right activists are indeed showing up, and they’re glad to shout about health care, but it’s Republicans who are on the receiving end of their ire.

As we discussed yesterday, this is a mess the GOP created. If Republicans aren’t pleased with the results, they have no one to blame but themselves.

As party officials and strategists ponder their next step, they may also want to keep in mind that the pro-shutdown activists making a fuss at town-hall events aren’t part of the American mainstream. The conservative Washington Examiner had an interesting item yesterday on an important poll.

First, let’s examine a poll conducted June 2-5, several weeks before a small group of congressional Republicans proposed their defund-or-shutdown strategy. The survey, conducted for the Republican nonprofit Crossroads GPS by GOP polling firm North Star Opinion Research, examined voter attitudes toward Obamacare and its implementation.

Not surprisingly, the results were almost uniformly negative for Obama and other supporters of the Affordable Care Act – with the key exception being the response to this question: “Some say that the health care reform law is so bad that an effort to repeal it should be attached to a bill necessary to keep the government running. Do you think it is a good idea or a bad idea for opponents of the health care reform law to risk shutting down the government in an effort to get rid of the law?”

Only 29 percent of respondents said this was a good idea, compared with 64 percent who said it was a bad idea and 7 percent who didn’t know.

Remember, this was a Republican pollster, publishing results intended to be helpful to Republicans.

It leaves the party in quite an awkward situation. After deliberately getting far-right activists all riled up about gutting the federal health care system by any means necessary, many Republicans are now balking at a government shutdown threat, leaving the GOP base feeling betrayed. But if Republicans take the base’s demands seriously, they risk alienating the mainstream, and handing Democrats a cudgel to use against them in the 2014 midterms.

Maybe GOP leaders should have thought this through a little more?

Affordable Care Act and Obamacare

August off to an awkward start for the GOP

Updated