Memo to GOP Candidates: Expunge “Repeal” From Your Vocabulary

By Cato the Elder

In the run up to the dramatic health care vote in the house, I’ve heard a number of conservatives posturing for the upcoming elections.  In particular, I’ve heard a lot of talk about running on a platform of repealing health care reform. I’ve got two words for you: Alf Landon.


This is a losing platform that will not succeed.


We can do better than that.  It’s not good enough to run against something, we have to come to the table with a comprehensive plan which addresses some serious shortcomings and downright wrongheaded ideas in the legislation currently under consideration.  In other words, we come to strengthen health care reform, not bury it.  We can and should use the scalpel as opposed to the cleaver to construct winning narratives and solutions based on conservative principles.


We should campaign hard as the party of individual liberty, fighting against egregious abuses like the individual mandate.  Where state governments have created costly distortions in the market by mandating what must be sold as part of an insurance product, we must work to roll these back.  Where walls have been constructed prohibiting individuals from purchasing insurance products from the lowest cost supplier, we must work to tear them down.  Most importantly, we must be crisp with a plan to address entitlement reform, as the forthcoming debt levels present an existential threat to our country as we know it today.  In sum, we as conservatives should be preparing to lead with ideas.  It’s easy to campaign and oppose, but much more difficult to actually steer the ship, as the current occupants of the White House are finding out.


When I hear the knee jerk “repeal” rhetoric coming from our leadership I get a little disturbed.  Repeal is an angry narrative, leaves you open to far too many potent counterattacks, and will get you slaughtered in a general election.  Don’t get too carried away throwing red meat to us, fellas.  Be smart; don’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.


  • Brian S. says:

    I read Milbank’s column today as well. The difference between where we are and where Langdon was is simple this – there are parts of the health insurance reform legislation that don’t need to be repealed. However, there are portions that should be, assuming it passes tomorrow. What Republicans need to do is define the portions of the bill that go too far and develop a workable solution to replace them.
    If we do that, we’re not just running on repeal, we’re running on our own version of reform, and that will gain us more votes in the long run.

  • Chris says:

    the other thing was that Landon’s opposition had nowhere near the support that the modern day GOP has. FDR and the New Deal was overwhelmingly popular with the people, especially the poor across the country that at the time could not properly be polled.

    I did a paper in grad school about Landon and if you research that election Landon basically ran on a “I can do the New Deal better” and campaign against the excesses of the legislation. It was only as the election got closer and it was clear that Landon was losing that he went harder.

    For FDR’s entire presidency, Republicans fought him on HIS terms. For the most part they accepted the New Deal and simply argued that they could do it btter. It was mistake. I disagre completely with this. We need to DEMAND repeal if this passes. Obama is knowhere near as popular as FDR was. FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT.

  • Rtwng Extrmst says:

    I’m not hearing any GOP legislators saying just “repeal”. I have been watching CSPAN very carefully lately and there are lots of positive ideas being promoted by Republicans. This Bill is so bad that we will likely NEED to repeal it to avoid the excesses and loopholes that will likely be used by Dems to accelerate the destruction of the private sector. I agree, bring on the good ideas in the campaign (just like the GOP has been doing all along in this). You’re buying into the Dem strawman that the GOP is just saying “NO”, and that to oppose this Bill is to oppose reform. I don’t hear that at all.

  • The hard right will be chanting repeal and it will get a lot of play. There are several different narratives about to take shape and it will be difficult to manage from an Republican point of view. Easy to leverage from a D point of view. It’s about to get pretty interesting between the hard right (Tea Party) and what used to be the right and center right.

  • Cato the Elder says:

    “For FDR’s entire presidency, Republicans fought him on HIS terms. For the most part they accepted the New Deal and simply argued that they could do it btter.”
    Don’t get me wrong, that’s not where I’m coming from. On the contrary, I’m saying that we do not accept the premise of their argument that health care is a right. Health care is a need, and the insurance market is not functioning properly for a variety of reasons: in some cases due to distortions created by state regulators and in others due to under/bad regulation that allows harmful business practices. I’m saying that we should embrace the principle that a free-market minded government can be a force for positive change in a non-functioning market, and we should be pushing market oriented solutions which improve interstate commerce.

  • kelley in virginia says:

    this is a Northern Virginia blog where, theoretically, you comment from Virginia’s best educated/informed population. Though I agree with you–& most thoughtful Republican candidates will surely offer some positive solutions (Robert Hurt, running against Perriello is one that comes to mind), the mantra of “repeal” sounds good.

    how about this: parts we need to repeal, parts we just don’t fund (though that snake still lies there dormant) & parts we just write over with something better.

    and after we work on that issue, let’s de-fund some other programs.

  • Loudoun Lady says:

    Repeal and real reform can be used specifically and effectively – particularly with the healthcare bill. Allowing the democrats to frame this discussion as “the republican are the party of no” is not an option.
    Cato’s point is taken, the republican party can run on what was agreed on and necessary vs what happened with this bill. We’re still fighting the hc battle but as soon as the votes are counted the real work begins. I don’t think we will hear “repeal the whole thing now” as a major theme, the american people are smart enough to know the distinctions in the argument and we need to use that to our advantage. It’s the democrats that count on everyone being too stupid to understand.
    The contract with America is due for some dusting off. I just heard Obama’s speech yesterday about “why you are democrat” and it sounded like “because we like to give out free stuff and be nice people and the republicans want to kick you to the curb” – complete bullshit. Being neighborly is not a federal mandate.

  • All we need is separation of government and healthcare.

  • Loudoun Moderate says:

    Is Medicare not a government program? Do the vast majority of Medicare recipients not like their program? PWC: Do you propose we throw millions of seniors under the bus when it comes to their healthcare?

  • Cato the Elder says:

    “how about this: parts we need to repeal, parts we just don’t fund”
    Absolutely agree, I just don’t want to be in the position of having to defend attack ads about children and pre-existing conditions. Moreover, I think that there will be a better central theme to run on in November than repeal of HCR, and it is powerful and irrefutable.
    Democrats have spent a year waging a very costly and divisive battle on HCR. They fiddled while the American main street economy burned. The stimulus was supposed to have created 2 million jobs. Instead, we lost 2.7 million; Mr. President, you’re about 4.7 million light pal. Myopic ideological focus on health care “reforms” which dramatically increase the costs of carry for employees will discourage job creation.
    Fixation on HCR instead of job creation has caused additional and unnecessary damage to our economy. Democrats were waging ideological jihad while 5 million Americans lost their jobs. That should be the centerpiece in November, not repeal for the sake of repeal. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t also talk about fixing the steaming pile of garbage that’s about to pass, but we should keep our eyes on the ball, and that ball is jobs.

  • AFF says:

    Health care going to be forgotten by everyone but the teabaggers come Nov. It’s going to “be about the economy stupid”.
    Nevertheless Cato, I think your side going to have a hard time being heard over din. Those folks carry big signs everywhere and like shouting into bullhorns, making for great television.
    REPEAL! Repeal the bill! No more marxist socialist communist takeovers by presidents who weren’t even born here vs pragmatic politics?
    Good luck

  • Ric James says:

    Cato, I must say I feel a lot better about your piece after I read your comments here. Perhaps you’d like to promote them to the main piece as updates?

  • Leej says:

    I agree November will be mostly about the economy if it is still in the cellar. Repeal sounds harsh and like I said in the thread above have good well thought out solutions, unlike what the republicans did this last year on health care. They never really came together except to bitch and whine. In November it will be for the republicans to lose if they are all over the map and don’t have hard concise ideas what to do make this health bill better. Always better to get change thru a positive then a negative. Repeal screams negativity. Republicans can do better then that.

  • Ron says:

    We will see what the immediate tax increases plus the specter of the repeal of the Bush tax cuts do to the economy. Double dip, anyone? Remember, Clinton’s 1993 tax hike stalled a recovery and kept the economy flat in 1994. The Hillary health care plan plus some of the other White House shenanigans of the time didn’t help. It is still very possible that the Democrats will hold the Senate because of their wide lead now, but plenty more realistic scenarios now exist that point to Republican takeover of the House.

    Even with a Republican takeover and a coherent plan to fix health care (as well as the looming debt that will bankrupt this country), getting any of that agenda passed and signed probably cannot happen until 2013, assuming Obama is thrown out of office and the Republicans expand their majorities even more (and have control of both Houses of Congress).

  • NotJohnSMosby says:

    Ron, did Clinton get thrown out of office in 1996? Obama has just accomplished more in his first two years than Clinton did, and the economy is improving.

    Everything that Republicans hope will happen is negative – the economy goes back into recession, the dollar collapses, the terrorists attack Nebraska, Democrats take your guns and bibles away, a gay guy tries to kiss you. That’s what you guys have, ghost stories. You’re screaming that the house is haunted and if you go into the house the boogyman will get you.

    Well, what do you do when people find out the house isn’t haunted and there are no ghostss? Spreading feer only works if people stay away. What if they don’t?

  • Steve Vaughan says:

    Cato: Your suggestion that jobs is a better platform for Republicans than repealing health care is right on the mark. That would require the GOP to put forward a positive plan to create more jobs. That hasn’t been on of the party’s fortes of late but, hey, “Bob for Jobs” McDonnell made it work..

  • NotJohnSMosby says:

    Maybe the national Republican plan could be to privatize all the liquor stores in the entire country?

Leave Comment