President Obama's weekly addresses tend to be pretty tame, at least as far as political rhetoric goes, but over the weekend his latest weekly message included some fairly pointed language about Republican efforts to sabotage the federal health care system.
Some congressional Republicans, Obama said, are "working hard to confuse people, and making empty promises that they'll either shut down the health care law, or, if they don't get their way, they'll shut down the government.... A lot of Republicans seem to believe that if they can gum up the works and make this law fail, they'll somehow be sticking it to me. But they'd just be sticking it to you."
And while the White House pushes against the GOP shutdown threats, far-right activists continue to push in the opposite direction.
Two right-wing organizations, Tea Party Patriots and a group called For America, are launching online ads this week, and while the above clip goes after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the first wave of far-right lobbying will target 12 Republican senators who have not endorsed the shutdown-the-government-over-Obamacare scheme. The second wave will focus on six more GOP senators and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).
The groups are also kicking off a five-day, six-state tour in key senators' home states. [Update: This will coincide with Heritage's nine-city "Defund Obamacare" town-hall tour, which starts today in Arkansas. That the Affordable Care Act resembles a Heritage Foundation plan from the 1990s is a detail that's slipped down the memory hole.]
It's not yet clear whether shutdown skeptics within the Republican Party really have anything to worry about from this kind of activism. After all, Tea Party Patriots and For America are not exactly political powerhouses that strike fear into the hearts of their rivals, and the groups are relying on online advertising because they can't afford more widely seen television spots.
That said, if the Republican establishment hoped the August recess would lower the temperature and give GOP officials a chance to explain to the party's agitated base that a shutdown is not in the party's best interests, things have not gone according to plan.
Sahil Kapur had a good report on this late Friday.
Conservative anxieties over the Affordable Care Act are reaching a boil as the law's major provisions are set to take effect in the coming months. And an all-out grassroots mobilization during the month-long August recess by wealthy right-leaning groups like FreedomWorks and Heritage Action appears to be having an impact. Republican lawmakers have said their constituents are demanding they refuse to vote to keep the federal government open after money expires on Sept. 30 unless President Obama's signature law is defunded.
"I'm hearing a lot of anger that is right beneath the surface, ready to erupt," said veteran Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), according to The Hill. Burgess, who has influence within his caucus on health policy, said the support for the defunding push was "virtually unanimous."
This has to be discouraging to GOP leaders who want to move away from needless, overheated brinksmanship, but are now facing unrealistic expectations from their right-wing rank-and-file members and the party's radicalized base.
And the key to remember is that the Republican leadership has no one to blame but themselves.
As we discussed at some length last week, GOP officials told right-wing activists that the Affordable Care Act -- a moderate law based on policies that have traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support -- is The Worst Thing Ever. It will kill your grandparents, destroy capitalism, and lead to the collapse of civilization as we know it.
Republicans have known all along this wasn't true, but saw value in keeping the base riled up, engaged, and writing checks. And now the party establishment seems genuinely surprised that the party activists they whipped into a frenzy are so hysterical -- "Wait, you guys actually thought we meant all of that stuff?"
As far as the right is concerned, of course Republicans need to shut down the government in the hopes of sabotaging the federal health care system. Of course extremism is necessary. Since conservatives have been told repeatedly that the future of freedom and the American way is on the line, can you really blame them?
The right-wing activists are tragically confused, but there's at least a degree of consistency -- they've been told that Obamacare is a fascist/communist takeover of the U.S. health care system, the believed their party leaders who assured them the claims were true, and so they necessarily see it as a betrayal now that their party isn't prepared to do everything conceivable to stand in the way of a dastardly scheme.
If Republican leaders are feeling frustrated, they should have thought of this before.