It's happened again. The Republican Party promised voters the world and failed to deliver — and some in the media are plopping the blame on conservatives.
"Don't blame the moderates for the health-care debacle" was the headline at the Washington Post's "Right Turn" blog, in an article that blasted, among others, "right wingers." "Sorry," wrote Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, "but Sens. Rand Paul R-Ky., Mike Lee, R-Utah, etc., are no heroes."
This time, as is often the case, the instinct to blame conservatives for a Republican faceplant is wrong-headed. What the failure of recent Obamacare replacement efforts has shown is not that the GOP is held hostage by an insatiable right wing, but that it is run by a leadership — and populated at the margins by a moderate sliver — that is happy to mislead conservative voters with big promises it doesn't deliver.
The standard evolution of intraparty Republican squabbles is this: Party leadership proclaims an ambitious conservative agenda during campaign season; rank-and-file candidates echo that call; conservative members actually try to advance said conservative agenda; and moderates and leaders quietly shake their heads while the press excoriates the "extremist" and "inflexible" conservatives.
It's a matter of opinion whether repealing Obamacare is "extremist." It's a matter of opinion whether it's radical to allow insurers to price insurance plans according to a patient's risk. But there's an objective question here: Which Republican politicians are doing what they said they would do?
It's not the moderates.
"The underlying problem has been that Republicans ran on repealing and replacing Obamacare for years and years," conservative Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., said in a Tuesday interview at the Washington Examiner. "But the real divide was that we didn't have a majority in either chamber that actually want to repeal the law."
In other words, some of the Republicans who ran for office pledging to repeal Obamacare didn't really want to repeal Obamacare. And when they voted in 2015 to repeal Obamacare, knowing President Obama would veto it, it was more theater.
When West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito voted in 2015 to repeal the law, she didn't mince words. "Americans deserve a healthcare system that works for them, and Obamacare is not it," she said. "I have consistently voted to repeal and replace this disastrous health care law, and I am glad that a repeal bill will finally reach the president's desk."
"The failures of this law have been absolutely devastating."
That was a straight repeal of Obamacare that would have left the replacement for later — exactly the deal Capito rejected when it was on the table this week.
Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska moderate, played a similar game. A Murkowski spokesperson said in 2010, "Her voting record stands by itself…. She opposed President Obama's healthcare plan at every step of the way, and she voted to repeal it. She's currently co-sponsoring three bills to repeal it."
When conservative primary challenger Joe Miller accused her of waffling on repeal, she blasted Miller for lying about her record.
This is the story of the GOP. The Republican Party used to have platforms calling for the abolition of federal agencies like the Department of Education. When conservative lawmakers introduced such measures, they got little or no support but instead the ire of party leaders — the same people supposedly carrying the banner of the party that supposedly ran on the proposal.
Voter anger at these broken promises helped power the Tea Party. When that eruption didn't make the party deliver on its promises, voters who had trusted Republicans went even more nuts: They elected Donald Trump.
The Washington media often holds up moderation and compromise as the chief political virtue. The repeal-and-replace debate reminded conservatives that the virtue of moderation often, in politics, comes with a vice: promising what you have no intention of delivering.
Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's commentary editor, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Tuesday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.