There is no better example of this than on healthcare policy. For decades, Republican inaction and acquiesce has allowed liberals to make uneven yet substantial progress toward their ultimate goal of imposing government-run healthcare on the United States. This time, Republican dithering may just enable Democrats to reach that promised land.
In 1994, Republicans cheered after defeating President Clinton’s push for national healthcare.They moved on to other issues, and avoided comprehensive free market healthcare reform when they had unified control of government during the second Bush administration. Democrats regrouped, learned from their mistakes, and honed their policies and messaging as they waited for their next opportunity. When given the chance, they passed Obamacare.
Republicans could have spent their time in the Obama era wilderness doing the hard work of building consensus around an alternative vision for healthcare when the stakes were low. Instead, they squandered this opportunity by focusing their efforts on scoring daily messaging victories. In the short-term, the strategy seemed to pay off politically, as Republicans regained unified control of government. But when it comes to achieving longer-term policy victories, the strategy has proven a dismal failure.
When Republicans took over in 2017, they had to start largely from scratch to gain support for plans to repeal and replace Obamacare. Though healthcare is among the most complicated domestic issues, Republicans wanted to race through the issue as quickly as possible so they could get on with tax cuts. Despite seven years of promises to repeal Obamacare, they came up largely empty handed. (Repealing the individual mandate penalties is not the same as advancing a broad free market healthcare vision.)