Republicans shouldn't see them everywhere.

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Republicans Set Their Own Obama Trap

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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I did a radio spot today reprising a recent post on how President Barack Obama will affect 2016,  though I butchered part of it. Here's what I should have said:

Candidates for the Republican presidential nomination face something of a trap,  and they’re going to have to find a way out of it.

The potential problem is created by how much Republicans hate Obama. It gives irresponsible demagogues or even just normally ambitious politicians (that should cover everyone running for president, right?) an opportunity they won’t be able to pass up: to attack their rivals  for sharing policy positions with the president.

I’m not talking about real violations of conservative orthodoxy, such as Senator Marco Rubio’s support for immigration reform or Governor John Kasich’s acceptance of expanded Medicaid. Those are legitimate policy differences among Republicans. Instead, I'm referring to issues such as net neutrality, which, until Obama got involved, wasn’t a partisan issue and didn't matter to most people. Any Republican senator can be said to have voted “with” Obama on any number of minimally controversial measures that can be painted as evidence of RINOism; any governor probably at some point worked harmoniously with the Obama administration, or the Departments of Education, Interior or Transportation … the list goes on.

Even on immigration, Republicans will be tempted to fall into the trap of turning a position they used to be divided about into absolute party dogma, just because Obama came down one way or the other.

Republicans shouldn't rob themselves of a solid conservative candidate just because he once advocated a policy that Obama later adopted. That’s the path that leads to Tail Gunner Ted and electoral disaster. Even more important, they shouldn’t want to let conservativism be defined by whatever Obama opposes, rather than positive policies conservatives support. This is going to be a challenge for 2016 candidates; they should be working on it now, because they’re all going to be vulnerable.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net