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Obamacare divides GOP against itself

A few months ago, Noam Scheiber argued that the Affordable Care Act is quietly "killing" the Republican Party. The GOP's "obsession" with the heath care law, he argued, may very well be "the party's undoing."

Three months later, that analysis looks quite sound.

The Senate Conservatives Fund launched this radio ad yesterday, blasting Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) for, as the far-right group put it, failing to "stand up to President Obama and join conservatives in pledging to oppose funding for the implementation of Obamacare."

In other words, Flake doesn't want a government shutdown, so the right is going after him. In all, the Senate Conservatives Fund, created to counteract Karl Rove's project to nominate more electable Republican candidates in GOP primaries, is currently running attack ads against seven senators. All seven are Republicans.

Also yesterday, a far-right outfit called the Madison Project began its own ad campaign in Kentucky, targeting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). "Would a self-proclaimed conservative 'leader' be undermining the conservative effort to defund Obamacare in Washington?" the narrator says in the spot. "Absolutely not. But that is exactly what Mitch McConnell is up to now."

At the same time, Tea Party activists have scheduled a rally at House Speaker John Boehner's Ohio office for today, insisting that unless the Republican leader agrees to use the upcoming budget fight to further undermine the federal health care system, they'll start using the word "BoehnerCare" instead of "ObamaCare." One of the leaders of today's protest proclaimed, "If he funds it, he will own it." (As of last week, Boehner signaled he has no intention of following the government-shutdown plan.)

And as the lobbying campaigns intensify, the fissures among congressional Republicans themselves are growing deeper.

National Review's Jonathan Strong reports today that when Boehner told House GOP lawmakers last week that he would not use a short-term continuing resolution to pick a fight over the implementation of Obamacare, the conference call turned "ugly."

Leadership sources say those who spoke up weren't representative of the entire GOP conference. "We haven't seen any indication of a broad groundswell," says a top aide. So far, the division has occurred mainly on the right of the conference, splitting the most hardcore conservatives. In private, many other Republicans are pulling their hair out over the push by Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee to use the CR as a do-or-die Obamacare fight.

One example of where the fissure line is: A letter calling on leadership to use the CR to defund Obamacare authored by Representative Mark Meadows split the "Jedi Council," a secretive group of top conservatives helping Boehner sketch a debt-ceiling strategy. Jim Jordan and Steve Scalise signed the letter, while Paul Ryan, Tom Price, and Jeb Hensarling did not.

Another example: A "Repeal Coalition" e-mail list-serv dedicated to the topic of stopping the health-care law, populated by top right-wing wonks at think tanks and on the Hill, has lit up with debate over past weeks, sometimes generating "30 to 40 e-mails an hour," according to one participant (he had to begin filtering the messages to a separate folder). The strategy has deeply split the group, whose existence is dedicated to repealing the law.

Let's put aside, for a moment, the fact that there's a contingent of House Republicans who call themselves the "Jedi Council" -- seriously, guys? -- and keep our eye on the bigger picture. House Republicans are pitted against each other, with no real strategy, no policy alternatives, little public support, and no leadership to speak of.

Brian Beutler's analysis this morning rings true, "[T]his August's congressional recess has been a case study in how minority parties react when faced with opponents they can't defeat. Instead of uniting in common cause against the enemy, they turn on each other. With their backs against the wall, they aim fire to either side, instead of straight ahead."

As we discussed last week, this would ordinarily be the point at which party leaders take stock, step up, and try to calm the waters, but the Republican Party doesn't really have any leaders -- it has factions ostensibly led by a House Speaker who has no real influence over his own members and a Senate Minority Leader who's so terrified of losing a primary fight that he's scared of his own shadow.

And so the GOP implosion continues apace. In terms of practical consequences, don't be surprised if Republican leaders soon discover that they'll need a whole lot of Democratic votes to avoid a government shutdown and/or debt-ceiling disaster -- votes that Democratic leaders may leverage for rewards of their own.