It begins: GOP inching away from campaign to repeal ObamaCare

The thinking is that it won’t play well in some states, like Illinois, where the GOP’s got a shot at an unlikely pick-up, so rather than push some monolithic “repeal it” message nationwide, they’re going to let local candidates decide how much they want to push it or not. Which is politically savvy, but not a big confidence-booster in terms of their determination to roll this thing back should they get the numbers in Congress to do so.

Top Republicans are increasingly worried that GOP candidates this fall might be burned by a fire that’s roaring through the conservative base: demand for the repeal of President Barack Obama’s new health care law…

Repeal is politically and legally unlikely, and grass-roots activists may feel disillusioned by a failed crusade. More important, say strategists from both parties, a fiercely repeal-the-bill stance might prove far less popular in a general election than in a conservative-dominated GOP primary, especially in states such as Illinois and California…

Asked if he advises Republican Senate candidates to call for repealing the law, Cornyn said: “Candidates are going to test the winds in their own states. … In some places, the health care bill is more popular than others.”

On Tuesday, Cornyn issued a 1,280-word campaign memo that mentioned “repeal” only once. It did not advocate repeal but noted that in a recent poll, “46 percent of respondents support a full repeal” of the health law.

Follow the link and note the detail about Mark Kirk, who went from leading the charge on repeal two weeks ago to weakly sniffing about the Medicare cuts in the bill yesterday. The argument for a cohesive party-wide “repeal it!” message is that if you run on it and win, it becomes a lot easier to actually follow through once you have the numbers. If Kirk ducks the issue and then is asked to vote on it as a senator, he might panic and balk; moderate Republicans aren’t always the good party soldiers their Democratic counterparts turned out to be in passing O-Care (although they’ve showed commendable unity this year). If Kirk runs on it and pulls the upset anyway, then all he’s doing in voting yes is keeping a campaign promise. Would you rather bet big on the unpopularity of O-Care now by adding repeal to the party plank, or would you prefer to hedge your bets by downplaying it, maximizing your congressional advantage, and then springing it on the public as a top legislative priority later?

The answer may depend on whether you think repeal’s possible or not. At RCP, Sean Trende dares to dream:

But even if they don’t gain control of the government, a coalition to repeal the bill or (more likely) effectuate major changes to the legislation is not out of the question. There are twenty-three Democrats up for re-election in 2012, and twenty in 2014. Of those forty-three Senators (almost 2/3 of the total seats up), ten are from states John McCain carried, and additional eleven are from states George W. Bush carried at least once, while seven more are from states Bush came four points or less from carrying. That is a huge number of potentially vulnerable Senators up in the next two cycles; it eclipses the two Senators from McCain states up this cycle (three more are from Bush states, and an additional three are from Bush-near-miss states).

These Senators could afford to vote for the bill in 2010 partly because their elections were a long way off. They also did so because the White House could argue that the bill’s popularity would turn around, and that the White House could pull vulnerable Senators and Congressmen over the finish line. But if the Republicans have an outstanding 2010, the White House’s argument will have been tested and will have failed. There will be substantial pressure on these Senators to modify the bill. Could the Republicans put together a coalition in 2010 or 2011 to effectuate major changes? It would be a long shot, but if Obama’s popularity remains below fifty percent going into 2012, I would not think it impossible.

Read the whole thing to see why he thinks O-Care isn’t quite as immovable an object as Social Security and Medicare were. It wasn’t passed with bipartisan support; it harms people who already enjoy federal benefits; and it’s redistributive in a way that those earlier entitlements, which essentially compel people to pay for their own late-in-life costs, aren’t. The prospect of a long, long period of economic stagnation on top of the looming entitlements crisis also guarantees that voters will have less patience with cost overruns than they might have during a booming economy. We’re already seeing omens in the media about small and medium-sized business — which are the only ones producing jobs right now — potentially forced to make tough decisions about layoffs to cope with O-Care costs. The worse it gets, the more transparently unsustainable this boondoggle is. Which brings us back to the question of how big an issue to make it in November. How lucky do you feel?