Early Returns

Who Cares About Health Care? Not Republicans

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

It matters to them.

Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Some evidence over the weekend for one of my favorite themes about health-care policy: that most Republican politicians and other party actors simply don't care about it very much. Kate Zernike reports:

Members of Congress returning home for the July 4 recess last week were met with rallies, sit-ins and Independence Day demonstrators, as activists on the left intensified their push to defeat Republican legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The groups on the right that once fueled the party’s anti-Obamacare fervor might as well have been on vacation.

“Not too many are focused on health care currently,” said Levi Russell, a spokesman for Americans for Prosperity, a group founded and funded by the Koch brothers.

The problem is that when you really hate Obamacare but don't have strong feelings about the Affordable Care Act, it's hard to keep the enthusiasm going when Barack Obama is no longer on the scene. And it's not, I don't think, that Republicans secretly like the law. It's that they really just don't care very much. Republicans are motivated to get involved in politics because they hate taxes, or because they don't like specific regulations, or because of strong anti-communism (once) or anti-terrorism (now) feelings. Not because they want to structure a health insurance market so that those with preexisting conditions can get insurance. 

Congress Returns to Crowded Agenda

That doesn't mean that Republicans are inevitably going to oppose health-care reform. After all, they did pass Medicare Part D back when George W. Bush was president -- just as those politicians who got involved with politics because they care deeply about education or health care or civil rights may wind up deeply involved in national-security issues. But overall, politicians and party actors aren't going to specialize in policy areas they find less compelling. And in the long run, that will affect how parties treat different issues. 

To be fair, one reason some organized groups aren't pushing for the current Senate health-care bill is that they believe it isn't sufficiently conservative. And many strongly ideological Republicans certainly do care, quite a bit, about the overall expansion of the responsibilities of the federal government that Obamacare enacted. But overall, health-care policy isn't going to be the Big Thing for most Republican party actors. And that's a good part of why they've been so unprepared to deal with the issue this year.

1. Dave Hopkins with an important message: U.S. political parties are permeable, and the way to influence them is to show up. That applies both to formal party organizations (such as the Democratic National Committee or your local county Republican Party), but also to the larger party networks. Suggestion: You'll have a lot more success affecting the party if you learn about it before complaining about it.

2. Henry Farrell at the Monkey Cage on why the cooperation with Russia that Donald Trump touted Sunday morning (before giving up on it Sunday evening) wasn't going to work. 

3. Also at the Monkey Cage: Sophia Dawkins on South Sudan

4. My Bloomberg View colleague Albert Hunt urges Democrats to actively fight against conspiracy theorists and other crazies among their allies. I strongly agree! And I agree those irresponsible voices are louder when a party is out of power. But the reason to resist is not in order to win the moral high ground; I mostly don't care about that. The real reason why is because accepting that sort of thing within a political party will eventually make the party dysfunctional: unable to govern well, unable to set and achieve reasonable policy goals, unable to ward off the next wave of demagogues. So parties have to always be vigilant. 

5. And Paul Waldman is correct about the irrelevance of party slogans

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

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net

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