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The Fall Of Obamacare McCarthyism

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Stockman created a website, CornynLovesObamacare.com, which treats the viewer to a dire warning about the No. 2 Senate Republican's "intimate, cozy relationship with" President Barack Obama's signature achievement and a nifty logo replete with an Obama symbol and heart to drive his point home. Scroll down and the website feature a lengthy timeline of news stories portraying Cornyn -- unfairly -- of protecting Obamacare since its inception by steering away from scorched-earth tactics to destroy it that were unlikely to bear fruit.

"If Republicans re-elect John Cornyn, who voted twice to fund Obamacare, it will send a message that Republicans are beginning to embrace Obamacare," Stockman pleaded with voters. "You can help stop Obamacare by helping me defeat an Obamacare funder."

Earlier, in January, Stockman drew up a faux Valentines day card featuring a heart-shaped photo of Cornyn and Obama, which read, "John Cornyn is cheating on you, with Obamacare."

Texas Republicans didn't buy it. Fifty-nine percent of them voted in Tuesday night's primary to renominate Cornyn, while Stockman came in a distant second place with 19 percent. The Senate minority whip avoided a run-off and is poised to coast to a third term in the deep-red state.

Obamacare McCarthyism, some observers explain, is emblematic of the special place the law occupies in the conservative psyche -- a hatred so profound that Republicans believe they can get ahead by accusing members of their own party of quietly sympathizing with it. In a way, it's reminiscent of former Sen. Joe McCarthy in the 1950s lobbing unsubstantiated claims that fellow government officials and Americans harbored sympathies for Soviets and communism.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) goaded the GOP into shutting down the government last fall by accusing Republicans who opposed a shutdown of tacitly supporting Obamacare. After that, various Republican candidates adopted the tactic in Senate primary races. But Cruz's success may have been a one-hit wonder: Obamacare McCarthyism isn't showing signs of success anywhere else.

Kentucky businessman Matt Bevin, who is vying to unseat Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has warned of a "rather disturbing trend" in which the veteran senator is "really working actively to ensure that this [Obamacare] is not a piece of legislation that is ended." He trails McConnell by 26 points, according to a Bluegrass poll last month, ahead of the May primary.

In the Georgia Senate primary race, Rep. Jack Kingston faced attacks by Rep. Paul Broun and the website RedState.com for ostensibly giving up on fighting Obamacare, after he said Republicans shouldn't pursue repeal of the law to the exclusion of helping their constituents. (Kingston has consistently voted to repeal the law.) The attacks haven't helped Broun much, though: he's been on a downward trajectory for months, according to HuffPost Pollster.

In Wyoming, Liz Cheney tried to boost her Senate candidacy by portraying Sen. Mike Enzi's past support for the concept of regulated health insurance marketplaces (which were originally a conservative idea) as evidence that he sympathizes with "liberal, big government Obamacare exchanges." It didn't do much. Cheney's campaign was such a disaster, for a variety of reasons, that she dropped out earlier this year.

That the tactic isn't being deployed by candidates who are succeeding is also revealing.

Is this the end for Obamacare McCarthyism? It's unclear if others will attempt it. What's clear is that after working wonders in scaring Republican lawmakers into shutting down the government last fall, the tactic has been failing at manipulating conservative voters ahead of the 2014 congressional elections.

About The Author

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Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.