Living across the Bay from Pinellas County these days is like sitting on a hillside watching the First Battle of Manassas (what Northerners call the First Battle of Bull Run) unfold before you. Troops are arrayed confident of their victory, but perhaps somewhat less familiar with the realities of political warfare than they might imagine, for all their prior experience.
And there is the niggling sense that the initial battle could, in its own way, turn into a rout.
The “troops” arrayed for battle are the Republican candidates, David Jolly, Kathleen Peters and Mark Bircher (representing different units of the Republican army, if you will), and Democrat candidate Alex Sink.
(I’ll acknowledge here that there is also a Libertarian candidate, Lucas Overby, vying for the seat. But my focus is on the Republican candidates and the rival most likely to defeat them, and that’s the Democrat, Alex Sink.)
If Jolly, Peters and Bircher are the various units of the Republican army arraying to do battle in Pinellas against the Democrats, one can imagine their respective commanders arguing over strategy back at HQ.
The strategic options look something like this (based on comments made by the candidates and reported in the Tampa Bay Times related to the Affordable Care Act, likely to be one of, if not the major, point along the policy line where the troops will fight):
- Go cautiously. We need to have a plan, choose the best ground for the fight, before we engage. (Peters)
- Charge the enemy boldly; we’ll overwhelm them easily. Win the battle, and the war will take care of itself. (Jolly)
- This is a war, not a battle, a war of annihilation, to wipe out the ways we have been doing things, and to live in a manner consistent with certain fundamental principles. (Bircher)
More concretely, Kathleen Peters has expressed reluctance about repealing the Affordable Care Act before Republicans have an alternative plan to replace it. She wants to fight over which way is better, rather than yes or no to Obamacare. She’s seeking what she views as more favorable ground for battle.
David Jolly has joined the “defund” movement. He urges a direct attack on Obamacare by legislative action as an early priority. Seemingly confident of victory, Jolly and other “defenders” are ready to do battle right now.
Mark Bircher, according to comments made at Tiger Bay, is not focused on the battle over Obamacare. He sees a need for a larger contest, and a larger conquest. It is not enough to repeal Obamacare. According to the Times report, Bircher believes that “the federal government should have no role in health care or anything else not specifically enumerated in the Constitution.” Sounds like a struggle to undo nearly a century of national policy . . . truly a war to annihilate the New Deal and its successors.
A poll taken last week, admittedly very early in the process, gives a preliminary indication of which strategy has the best chance of being adopted by the Republican army. Peters and Jolly are in a statistical dead heat among registered Republican voters; Bircher currently trails by 10 percent. So, at least at this stage in the debate, it looks like Republicans will be led either by a commander who is ready for a frontal assault on Obamacare, or one who will maneuver for the best battlefield position on which to fight before seriously engaging the Democrats on health care.
Meanwhile, in the Democratic lines, they already know who their general is . . . and she holds an early (f not yet commanding) advantage over whoever the Republicans put in command.
It’s too early to know how the battle will play out . . . let alone the war. But the stakes here are much higher than who will represent much of Pinellas County in Congress (as high as those stakes are for Pinellas County residents). And the matter is much more than an entertaining spectator sport.
Here, on the battlefield of Pinellas County, there will be a first serious partisan engagement since the rollout of Obamacare. It will be an indication, though not definitive, of things to come.
Republicans have a choice going into this fight. That choice is not just about candidates, nor about strategies. It is, indeed, about what the Republican Party will fight for in this next year . . . and what it stands for.