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Mike Murphy: Obamacare Is a GOP Jackpot

5 minute read
Mike Murphy

One of the few joys in the down-and-dirty world of politics is seeing your opponents in a hole, shovels still busily swinging. The secret is knowing how to stay out of the way while plotting to bury them.

President Obama’s remarkable botching of the Obamacare rollout is exactly the reboot opportunity the Republican Party needed: a huge failure by its opponents and a priceless opportunity after the ill-advised government shutdown.

Without even buying a ticket, the GOP has won the Powerball of politics. But in our happy delirium, we Republicans should be brutally honest with ourselves. Democrats are flailing right now–but that doesn’t mean Republicans are in control. We didn’t earn this. Sure, we were right about Obamacare. But telling the country what we are against is only a start. To really run the table and take back the White House and the Senate, the GOP must do the hard work of a true party reset. If we don’t, a big Democratic comeback in 2016 is quite likely, even with the failures of Obamacare. Here is the path forward.

We must understand that the GOP needs fresh policy thinking, not a just an update of our political tactics. New computers in the RNC basement won’t save us. A new set of right-of-center policy ideas might. The computers will help us sell those ideas.

Our Republican policy cupboard is embarrassingly bare. What are our new ideas to help the middle class after years of economic pain? What’s our plan to address the rising costs of health insurance? How do we create economic growth–for everybody, not just the most successful 10% of the country? How do we rebuild the ladder of upward social mobility? How do we fix public education?

The Republicans need an idea renaissance to carry our fight forward. We also need to recognize what ideas and issues to avoid. Are we going to spend 2014 and 2016 debating social issues, like same-sex-marriage bans, that are rapidly losing public support? Are we going to define our party by retrograde ideas that most people oppose? The Democrats would like nothing better. Wounded and cornered, they’ll soon try to pick abortion and gay-rights fights in Congress to shift the political debate away from Obamacare. Our choice is simple: Do we walk into their trap?

We have to face up to demographic reality. That means moving the party dial away from AM talk radio and toward the occasional salsa beat. The numbers are clear: without real immigration reform–tougher borders and an earned path to citizenship–it will be very hard for the GOP to win the White House in 2016. We need a modernized conservatism that can persuade the changing America in which we live to let us govern.

Finally, political tactics are important, and we need to get a lot more creative.

Ronald Reagan launched his campaign to make America great again in Detroit in 1980. Let’s go back to the Motor City and hold our 2016 national nomination convention in Detroit. What didn’t work in Detroit was decades of big Democratic government fueled by public-employee unions. What is working now is a comeback in the central city fueled by young entrepreneurs and free enterprise. Detroit is going to be a comeback story, and it will be done on GOP principles. What better place to show the country that we offer a way forward with room for everyone?

Also, let’s change our primary system to expand participation. We should discourage small-turnout caucuses and embrace big, open primaries. (Relax, Iowa, you get a pass.) Let’s unlock the front door of the GOP and welcome lots of new members. It’s free-market common sense; the more our nominating electorate looks like the general-election electorate, the better we are going to do in November.

Some GOP operatives are pitching the idea of a Midwestern regional primary, and it’s a good one. The concept is a bunch of key Midwestern swing states–Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and a few others–would all have their primaries on a single day, not long after the Florida primary. Those states are critical to winning a general election; let’s make their voice in the primary system louder.

All of this boils down to one tough choice. We can either stay in our comfort zone and endlessly high-five one another over the President’s epic failure with Obamacare. Or we can do the hard work we must do to win: leave our comfort zone, face and fix our policy weaknesses, revamp our rusty tactics and focus relentlessly on tomorrow’s voters instead of yesterday’s. That is the way to win big and have a Republican House, Senate and White House by 2016. Winning is always possible. It’s just never easy.

Murphy is a Republican political consultant

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