- - Friday, June 6, 2014

Headlines after the primary elections of May 21 rejoiced in the Republican establishment’s victory over conservative challengers, and they proclaimed the Republican Party’s likely success in capturing control of the Senate in the 2014 elections.

Coincidentally, The Los Angeles Times reported that the Obama administration had quietly embodied in a Health and Human Services rule the promise it has made to CEOs of major insurance companies to make good any losses they sustain from minimizing increases in health insurance premiums. In other words, they would be bailed out from the consequences of Obamacare with funds appropriated for other purposes. Thus, absent legislation containing sentences beginning with: “No funds appropriated herein shall be used for ” President Obama and the insurance industry can join in the backdoor-financing of a single-payer scheme.

There is no escaping the question: Would a Republican-majority Senate, dominated as it will be by the establishment, have it in itself to pass and then to insist on such legislation? Will the Republican establishment be faithful to the promises they are making to voters to repeal Obamacare, or will they continue to excuse their fealty to the insurance lobby by postponing the showdown with Obamacare yet again? The performance of House Speaker John A. Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell inspires no trust.

Putting hope over experience, the American people have voted Republican with decreasing vigor. Success in the latest primaries should not lead Republican leaders to assume that they can continue to devalue their political currency without a day of reckoning.

That day of reckoning was set when Mr. Obama wrote his backdoor bailout of the insurance industry into the Health and Human Services rule book.

In the next Congress, some representatives and senators will introduce a bill to stop it. Were Republican leaders to pull such a bill’s teeth, or were they to go along with passage only then once again to back down in the face of Mr. Obama’s threat to “shut down the government,” they would do well to remember what happens when a political party compromises one time too many.

Republicans, especially, should recall that their own party came to be after the Whig Party lost voters’ confidence by compromising one too many times on the great issues of its time. Henry Clay’s Compromise of 1850 had capped a 20-year series of Whig retreats from its principles, including opposition to the spread of slavery. The compromise was supposed to have settled that issue. Some Whigs, however, thought it was a sellout because it did not explicitly forbid slavery in territories where it was not specifically allowed. Would the Whigs hold fast against legislation to allow the introduction of slavery into territories via local “popular sovereignty”? The answer came when the Whig establishment helped pass Stephen Douglas’ Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which did that very thing. Before Kansas-Nebraska, the Republican Party was a fringe movement. Within two years, few people would admit ever to having been Whigs

For today’s Republicans, the bailout of Obamacare’s insurers is as sure a casus foederis as the Kansas-Nebraska Act was for the Whigs. Today’s Republican Party is the heir of countless compromises that have cheapened its brand. For a generation, it has lived on the expectation that enough people would disdain the opposition enough to “hold their noses” and vote Republican. In recent years, it has made opposition to Obamacare the touchstone of its identity, while voting to fund it and castigating the Ted Cruzes, Mike Lees and Rand Pauls who refused, and postponing to an indefinite future the day when they would actually represent their voters.

If, with control of both houses of Congress, the Republican leadership caves once more, any person who does not abandon the Republican Party after that will have sacrificed what remains of his credibility just a surely as did the Whigs who failed to revolt at the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In the 2016 presidential election cycle, can we imagine the Club For Growth, the National Rifle Association, the various pro-life organizations and the panoply of issue organizations that have defended their constituents holding their noses for the nth time and supporting another Republican turkey? Can we imagine the Republican electorate believing in yet another set of promises from serial promise-breakers?

Consider this scenario. Circa Jan. 1, 2016, the principal conservative issue groups advise the top conservative contenders for the presidential nomination that they are willing to support someone who will wage a campaign for the presidency that forcefully indicts both parties. Recall that in 1992, Ross Perot led the field waging such a campaign. Had he not self-destructed, he would have won the popular vote. Bill Clinton would have come in second and George H.W. Bush third. With no one having won a majority of the electoral vote, the House of Representatives would have decided the election, with each state casting one vote.

A quarter-century later, in 2016, we can be confident that were there to be a three-way race between a Rand Paul or Ted Cruz against Hillary Clinton and another Bush, the latter would surely end up in last place. In the House, election of the conservative would be likely, and the end of the Republican Party would be underway.

Angelo M. Codevilla is professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University.