I've been thinking about what public spirited Republican governors and Republican members of Congress outside the senior Republican leadership should talk about in the next year if they are at a public forum (thanks to our commenters in the thread below.) I've also been thinking about the political implications of Henry Olsen's insights.
I think that the important thing for folks like Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio to focus on are ways to talk about significant policy change in the least scary way possible. The budget fight looks like it will mostly be on domestic discretionary spending, and while that is important, I'm not sure it is the best use of Daniels' or Rubio's time with the public to spend a lot of time talking about how this or that smallish program will be cut. We won't be saved by such changes (though we should pursue them of course) and there will be so many other folks talking about them that the comments of a Daniels or Rubio are not likely to add much value. I think the same is true of Obamacare. There will be frontal assaults ( a vote to repeal) that won't be enacted and the flanking actions most likely to pass (getting rid of the 1099 reporting requirements and undoing the cuts to Medicare), would add to the deficit, and more deeply entrench Obamacare politically, while leaving Obamcare's core structure untouched.
Folks like Daniels and Rubio should focus on strategy rather than tactics and always try to use examples drawn from the real life experience. They should build their criticisms of Obamacare around the basic problems of how Obamacare's combination of individual purchase mandates, coverage mandates, guaranteed issue and community rating have involved large premium increases in Massachusetts and increased the cost to taxpayers too. They should also note that Obamacare is an inferior system to Romneycare and that the consequences of Obamacare promise to be worse. They need to explain how the crony capitalism of Obamacare's system of health insurance waivers allows bureaucrats to cancel your health care policy and force you to pay higher premiums while others in more politically connected companies are allowed to keep the same kind of insurance.
They should keep in mind Henry Olsen's observation that many working-class (and I would add not only working-class) voters are not enthusiastic about sudden change. Conservatives should never seem like they are getting high off their own radicalism. Conservative reforms should, whenever possible, be presented not as radical change but as the moderate alternatives to the radical and disruptive changes (in the forms of higher taxes, higher insurance premiums, denial of care and fewer jobs) that would come from leaving liberal policies in place.
This has implications both for which policies should be emphasized and how policies should be sold. A Ryan Roadmap-style health care reform that would destroy the employer-provided health insurance system in one step is probably not going to fly. Incremental policies that demonstrate benefits to people who choose consumer-driven health insurance policies have a much better chance of winning public support. Whenever possible, conservative policy proposals should be paired with examples of how similar policies achieved perceptible benefits. Mitch Daniels' system of HSAs saved the government money and increased the take home pay of workers. It should be talked about at every opportunity. Where examples of well functioning alternatives are not available (like with reinsurance pools), there is no alternative to doing your homework, knowing the details and driving home the basic points that the reinsurance approach would save the taxpayer's money, cover people with preexisting conditions, and avoid sticking the rest of us with purchase and coverage mandates that will cost us more in premiums and put us at the mercy of government bureaucrats.
Whenever possible, try to steer the conversation away from the tactical political fight of the moment or the latest inflammatory comment. Try to be bigger than the moment and talk about the big things that get lost. Major political reform often come very, very slowly before they can come quickly. Obamacare was fifteen years in the making and is itself some distance from the intended final destination of government-run health care. We have a lot of catching up to do.