Obamacare: A Counterfactual to York's Counterfactual

My friend Ed Morrissey at Hot Air agrees with Byron York’s contention that Republicans seem to have missed an opportunity to do maximum damage to Obamacare by allowing the disastrous launch of the program to be overshadowed by the shutdown/debt ceiling fight. On Sunday, York penned a counterfactual asking what might have been if Republicans had highlighted Obamacare’s flaws instead of trying to defund it.

But the two were never mutually exclusive. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was not preventing the Republican National Committee from rolling out an anti-Obamacare ad campaign before (or after) the Oct. 1 start date. The GOP could have made that their focus without him. Instead, Republican leaders tied themselves in knots over a deeply flawed immigration reform effort in an attempt to appeal to left-leaning Latino voters.

York’s column actually makes a great argument for Cruz’s strategy, inadvertently. Without Cruz standing up to Obamacare on the floor of the Senate, without pushing for an effort to defund or at least delay the law, there would have been no resistance to Obamacare’s launch. Instead, the GOP would have quietly funded it and hoped the public would one day arrive on its own at the right conclusions about the Affordable Care Act.

Here’s another counterfactual, one I think is more convincing. Imagine that on the morning of Oct. 1, as the American people tried and failed to access the Obamacare exchanges–or, worse, having succeeded and seen the outrageous prices–there was no immediate memory of anyone having tried to stop it. What would they have thought and felt about a GOP that had stepped aside and abandoned them to their own struggles?

Conservative writers often place too much faith in the idea that people will naturally punish Democrats for their policy failures. The great weight of recent history suggests otherwise. It is usually necessary to point out those failures and to provide a clear political alternative. Otherwise the Democrats will simply do what they always do: offer yet another government fix for a problem that government created in the first place.

Especially after nominating Mitt Romney, who–despite his promises to repeal Obamacare–lacked real credibility on the issue, the Republican Party had a long way to go to convince voters (and its own base) that it was serious about repealing the law. Cruz restored that promise. Without his efforts, the GOP would still be sitting on its hands on Obamacare, having lost an opportunity to fight for ordinary people. Again.