Tuesday morning on Fox & Friends, usually a reliable source of support for all things Republican, two of the hosts began with their accustomed partisan agreement. Elisabeth Hasselbeck, formerly of The View, praised Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for giving up his salary, saying he was “going down with the fight.” One of her two male co-hosts, Steve Doocy, spotlighted Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina) for doing what he campaigned to do by fighting Obamacare at all costs. “While (the Affordable Care Act) is the law of the land,” Doocy said, expressing his admiration for those fighting Obamacare, “it is wildly unpopular in this country.”
Then, the unthinkable happened. A Fox News host disagreed with the party line.
As soon as they cut back from footage of an interview with Gowdy from the night before, Brian Kilmeade offered his simple rebuttal. “You say it’s unpopular and over 50 percent of the country doesn’t seem to want it,” Kilmeade said. “But 8 million more people voted for it, because Mitt Romney would have been president.”
He was quickly interrupted by Doocy, who said, “But the November election last time was not about Obamacare.”
Kilmeade pressed on, undeterred. “But he talked a lot about it,” he said. “And they knew that if they elected Mitt Romney, he would have repealed it. And on top of that, too, if this thing is so bad and is so unorganized as we’re seeing this morning it is, why not let it start? Because then you could get the Senate if you’re a Republican and maybe you have a shot at the White House if you’re a Republican, and you could begin to unwind it. But right now, it’s been flooded with the lockdown information.”
As soon as Kilmeade finished, Hasselbeck quickly pivoted to a business-as-usual segment of Obamacare fear-mongering with “death panel” alarmist Betsy McCaughey, but it was too late to silence Kilmeade’s dissent. Prominent liberal news sites have already begun replaying the video, eager to show how the Republican Party’s shutdown strategy loses even a Fox News host like Brian Kilmeade.
UPDATE: Another prominent Republican, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, has expressed his public disgust with the Ted Cruz wing of the Republican Party. In an interview with the Washington Post, Norquist said, ” Ted Cruz, from left field, said we have to defund Obamacare permanently in this CR. If they offered the Keystone pipeline and the privatization of Fannie and Freddie you couldn’t take that. We only want this, and we only want it on Tuesday — Wednesday is no good. The debt ceiling is no good. So that got locked in as a principle. And people went out on talk radio and said if you’re not for this you’re a coward, you’re a RINO.”
In the same interview, Norquist later added, “Cruz stood on the side and confused people about the fact that every Republican agrees. He said if you don’t agree with my tactic and with the specific structure of my idea, you’re bad. He said if the House would simply pass the bill with defunding he would force the Senate to act. He would lead this grass-roots movement that would get Democrats to change their mind. So the House passed it, it went to the Senate, and Ted Cruz said, oh, we don’t have the votes over here… Cruz said he would deliver the votes and he didn’t deliver any Democratic votes. He pushed House Republicans into traffic and wandered away.”
The objection Kilmeade and Norquist have raised is not a rejection of the Republican Party itself, nor an endorsement of Obamacare. Kilmeade, for example, clearly believes the Affordable Care Act’s programs are doomed to fail. Instead, the Fox & Friends host expressed the view of mainstream leaders in the Republican Party, the same opinion expressed by Senate leaders such as John McCain (R-Arizona), Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), and Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma). Their perspective is, this effort to stop Obamacare cannot possibly succeed, due to Senate Democrats and the President’s veto, and it will only hurt the Republican Party’s image more in the minds of moderate and liberal voters.
In fact, the notion of holding the American economy hostage doesn’t appear to come out of fear that Obamacare will fail. If it did, the GOP would benefit. Republicans like Kilmeade believe Obamacare will be a poorly implemented bureaucratic failure, a story the GOP could be running with and profiting from already due to the technical difficulties with online insurance exchanges. Those on the Right could be winning the public relations war right now in anticipation of the next election. Instead, polls show that Americans blame Republicans for the shutdown, and while they don’t like Obamacare, they like consequences of closing down the federal government even less.
In their opposition to the mainstream Republicans’ previous plan to let Obamacare happen so it can fail, the far Right’s concern is revealed. Their driving fear seems to be not Obamacare’s failure, but its success. If this occurred, the country would, once again, be leaving the Tea Party’s minority values behind. The worst outcome for them is that if the Affordable Care Act is implemented, it could be popular and, therefore, permanent. Perhaps this worry is driven by a version of Governor Mitt Romney’s 46% notion, the misguided idea that half of the American electorate will love any program that gives them something free or at a discount.
Unfortunately for the GOP, because of this Tea Party-driven last stand, the current prevailing Obamacare narrative is not about the law itself, but rather about the shutdown being used to obstruct it. For the Republican Party, this is a larger public relations defeat, at the exact moment when they could be celebrating Obamacare’s awkward birth pangs to increase their chances in national elections.
For the Tea Party congressmen driving this effort, however, national politics are not the issue. They were elected in heavily Republican (and often heavily gerrymandered) districts, by white, Conservative majorities who don’t reflect the country’s larger electorate. In fact, this doomed fight against Obamacare has been a goldmine for these politicians, who are collecting huge increases in campaign contributions from extremist Conservatives by leveraging their intractability in fighting universal healthcare.
However, while Right-wing extremists may applaud them, the overall strategy is costing the GOP as a whole. The elections in 2014 and 2016 may be good for these same Tea Party House members, but the Republican Party can’t win nationally if it loses the support of even Fox News hosts like Brian Kilmeade and hardcore Republicans like Grover Norquist.
Written By: Jeremy Forbing