The Awkward Pivot

Most of our attention yesterday was on Jeb Bush’s unexpected and still pretty inexplicable shift on immigration reform. Bush — Mr. Immigration Reform from a Pro-Reform political dynasty — is probably the last guy I would have expected to make a move like this. And he’s now to the right of his protege Marco Rubio on what’s supposed to be the big issue of this political cycle.But look what’s happening down in the states. Republicans are now fighting among themselves over one of the signature initiatives of the dreaded ‘Obamacare’. First, Florida. A few weeks ago, Gov. Rick Scott bucked expectations and decided to accept the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. Yesterday, his Republican-dominated state House voted to block that decision.

Even more striking is Arizona. Gov. Jan Brewer was another GOP Governor who bucked expectations and decided to opt-in to the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. Now GOP SuperPACs are battling it out over her decision and, by extension, Obamacare. Americans for Prosperity is running ads attacking Brewer for the decision. And she’s now being defended by another Super PAC, Restoring Arizona, which is encouraging voters to support Brewer’s “fiscally conservative Medicaid plan.”

So take stock of that. Republican Super PACs are now battling it out at the state level over the merits of Obamacare. That’s where we are.

I don’t want to make too much of these squabbles. In themselves they’re not the end of the world. But they are small examples of how difficult the GOP’s post-election pivot will be. You cannot easily walk away from one of the party’s defining positions — opposition to ‘Amnesty’. Mitt Romney noted yesterday that ‘Obamacare’ drove lower income and minority voters into the Obama camp. Flat opposition to reform is still dogma for the GOP base. But the party’s establishment and operative base now sees that it’s driving support of growing parts of the electorate. Which is a big problem. Governors’ attempts to reposition, even in small ways to reflect fiscal and political realities, are sparking fights with state legislatures.

Right now the economy and the fiscal stand off is taking a toll on both sides — the President and the GOP House. But beneath that fight the key domestic policy questions are uniting and expanding the Democratic coalition while dividing Republicans. This pivot won’t be nearly as easy as the DC pundit class expects.