GOP Base’s Anti-Obamacare Resolve Unshaken By Unpopular Shutdown

Jeffrey Malet

For attendees at the conservative Values Voter Summit, the defund Obamacare effort at the center of the government shutdown helped reinvigorate conservative opposition to Obamacare, even if Democrats are thus far standing firm against efforts to chip away at the law.

“Well I don’t look at this as a last stand or a last chance because I think Obamacare is going to become unraveled, to a certain degree, maybe not totally,” furloughed defense contractor and conference attendee Mike Osinik told TPM. “But parts of it will be changed and will be de-scoped to a certain extent. And I think anybody, whether they’re on the left or the right, who are standing for their principles fully support that.”

Attendees said they did not expect Obamacare to be repealed entirely but the energy brought by conservative lawmakers pushing to fully repeal it helped supporters know the fight would continue.

De-facto leader of the defund-Obamacare movement that led to the government shutdown, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), delivered a fiery speech at the opening of the convention. “I’m going to suggest a model for how we turn this country around in the next couple of years,” Cruz said. “And it is the model that we have been following together for the last couple of months, to stop that train wreck, that disaster, that nightmare that is Obamacare.”

Several attendees were cautious in saying how they expected the government shutdown to play out. Many, like Osinik, said that the expectation was not that Obamacare would totally be repealed one day, but that parts would be dismantled.

“I think that you will find that the Republican side of this equation at this point is not arguing to defund Obamacare. I think what they are arguing is that we’re going to do a couple of little things to it,” said attendee Dennis Bussey. He was open to several compromises as means of ending the shutdown, including a repeal of the medical device tax.

“I don’t think that could be, by reasonable people, considered as an unreasonable response here,” Bussey said.

Many attendees seemed to think that re-opening the government wouldn’t necessarily result in a full repeal.

“Can it be solved in one negotiated answer? No. I think the answer would probably be in incremental leadership, holding fast on things that cannot be compromised,” Daniel Schlueter, who dressed in American Revolutionary garb, told TPM. “Is it the last gasp for Obamacare? No, there’s just too much energy behind it. This will go on and on for a while. But at least Sen. Cruz’s stand raised awareness and it actually gave a spine to people that are floundering.”

That’s not to say the blame for the shutdown went to anyone but mostly Democrats.

“It was Harry Reid and all the liberals and Obama,” Katrina Lautenschlager, a student at Eastern Washington University, said. “The fact that we’re fighting this Obamacare and trying to defund it has not that much to do with the government shutdown because they’re the ones that did that. It’s not like we have to not fight because there’s a government shutdown.”

TPM asked Schlueter if the real purpose of trying to defund Obamacare through a government shutdown was to provide cover for Republicans who prioritized fighting the law above other issues.

“Well, it at least inspired,” Schlueter said, adding that Cruz’s push “gave a lot of Republicans spine.”

A day earlier, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that just 24 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of the Republican Party, a record low. The poll also found an increase in support for the Affordable Care Act among Americans and that a majority blame Republicans for the shutdown. Asked about the poll, Schlueter said the question was probably off and that more Americans actually supported the effort.

“I think you need to tweak the question. I think we need to find where the libertarians are too,” Schlueter said. “And I think if you took libertarian, people who are Republicans and conservative too, people who are generally hesitant in general, suddenly that number isn’t 24 percent anymore, suddenly it’s the 50-60, if you add them all together.”

Many that TPM talked to seemed to believe that conservative opposition to Obamacare would continue, even if House Republicans were unsuccessful in gutting the law in a deal to raise the debt ceiling or re-open the government.

“There’s no doubt that the battle will rage,” Edward Bartlett, another attendee of the summit, said. “It could go in a hundred different directions. Nobody knows, but the battle will rage, there’s no doubt about it. Shutdown or no shutdown.”

Photo credit: Jeff Malet.