Virginia Republicans, United in Stubbornness

Jim Newell   April 14, 2014

The Virginia Republican party is a mess. Like many state- and national-level Republican parties, it’s currently split between Tea Party and more “moderate” establishment wings, which don’t tend to agree all too often. In statewide elections last year, the party nominated a couple of Tea Party creeps for governor and lieutenant governor but lost both races. In the governor’s race, GOP nominee Ken Cuccinelli didn’t exactly lose to a hot-shot Democratic contender, either: he lost to Terry McAuliffe, an almost universally disliked sleazebag fundraiser. Virginia has also gone Democratic in the past two presidential elections, breaking a red streak of approximately fifty years.

But! The political gods, true and righteous forces that they are, have finally given Virginia Republicans the gift of a policy “unifier,” something on which all GOP politicians in the state can agree. As is typically the case among Republican “unifiers” these days, it is a position that is in opposition to something else, and that involves keeping public goods away from the poor. From the Washington Post:

Virginia Republicans were supposed to be squirming by now. For months, their opposition to expanding Medi¬caid under the Affordable Care Act has put them at odds with some traditional allies in the business world.

Hospitals, the state chamber of commerce and corporate leaders have been calling, writing, visiting and buttonholing, pushing what they call “the business case” for expanding coverage to thousands of uninsured under the health-care law, with the federal government promising to pay most of the cost. Gov. Terry McAuliffe and other Democrats who favor expansion have been betting on that pressure to sway Republicans, particularly in rural areas where hospitals are often the largest employer and are ¬eager for the financial girding that the coverage expansion would provide. [. . .]

Opposition to the health-care law—and to the subcategory of Medicaid expansion—has unified the party like no other issue in recent memory. Just a year ago, the Virginia GOP splintered over a transportation-funding deal that imposed a huge tax increase. Rifts between the GOP’s establishment and tea party wings were on full display then, when nearly half of House Republicans bucked their own governor and speaker to vote against the plan.

So here you have business leaders, the governor, hospitals, medical professionals, and the people who desperately need coverage, all calling for the state GOP to accept the Medicaid expansion. This is the Medicaid expansion for which the federal government will pay 100 percent of its costs for the first few years, and then 90 percent of the costs permanently. We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars that the state’s residents are already paying for with their federal tax dollars—money which is now simply going to other states.

Supposing Governor McAuliffe doesn’t flinch in his demand for the expansion, the budget face-off could eventually lead to a state government shutdown. We all know how “government shutdowns” work out for the Republican party, poll-wise. And it’s obvious that this is a state that the party desperately needs to win back in the 2016 presidential election.

But still, in the face of all that, the Virginia Republican party thumbs its collective nose. In other words, we have here a pretty clear case of GOP governance in the Obama era. The party’s strategy confounds most commonly held principles of human behavior: the greater the number of incentives to do something, the less likely Republican politicians will be to do it. Most people would hear about this deal they’re being offered and think, okay, yeah, we should take that sweet cash and give poor people some medical security in the process. Republican politicians see it and think, the more incentives they throw at us, the stronger we’ll look for turning them down.

So, congratulations on your “unifier,” Virginia Republicans. You may never win a statewide election again, but at least you’ve still got your pride.

Jim Newell has covered politics as a staff writer at Gawker, an editor at Wonkette, and a contributor to the Guardian.

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