'The Only Way to Dismantle Obamacare is to Win Elections'
So says my friend Ed Morrissey, and he's largely right. But it is worth pointing out why that strategy feels inadequate to many conservatives: we were told the same thing in 2012, when the candidate did not really run on Obamacare (and, given his record, could not). Most Tea Party activists accepted the party's nominee, trusting the party leadership's assurances that Romney was the only candidate who could win. He lost.
That is why conservatives do not want to wait until the next presidential election. In addition, as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) pointed out repeatedly, there is every danger that Obamacare will become too deeply entrenched by then to be repealed. The new system may not work, but the new insurance subsidies will prove addictive, and it is incredibly difficult to cut back an institutionalized federal bureaucracy.
So the key to winning elections has to be more than accepting "the only one who can win." It has to begin--now--with creating a coherent opposition agenda that unifies the party (e.g. shelve immigration). It also means the brass has to open its doors to Tea Party leaders--not just rewarding the ones who, like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), moderate their policies, but welcoming hard-liners who show leadership potential.
Let me get explicit here. Party leaders and donors have to reach out to potential GOP candidates who have a) governed successfully; b) rejected Obamacare funds; c) worked to unify rather than divide Republicans. That means looking past some of the big personalities driving the debate and the horse-race talk. It also means finding things to do between elections that push the agenda forward--and not on Obama's schedule.
Update: Twitter yielded a bit of interesting debate on this, which reminded me of a point I've made before:
For Republican leaders to welcome Tea Party leaders, they have to step up in the first place. After 2004, the "netroots" on the left organized to take over the Democratic Party machinery. The Tea Party, by contrast, shows more interest in media and rallies than in competing for posts. That's not the establishment's fault.