Editorial: Setting the Stage for 2014

You may have heard that the Republican Party is not particularly enamored of the law known far and wide as Obamacare. The federal government is shut down (as of this writing) in large part because of the G.O.P.’s insistence that Obamacare is a ruinous piece of job-killing legislation that ought to be repealed.

The point has been made. Now it’s time to end the shutdown and make Obamacare the centerpiece of the Republican Party’s congressional campaigns next year. The party should frame 2014 as a revote on the enormously expensive health care mandate—if it is as unpopular as they believe it is, they will have been handed a winning issue on a silver platter.

The problem, as conservatives as diverse as Congressman Pete King and commentator John Podhoretz have noted, is that Republicans may lose the opportunity to take control of the 2014 elections if they are perceived to be intractable. At the moment, Republicans are said to be losing the public relations war, just as they did during the Newt Gingrich-inspired shutdown two decades ago.

But there is evidence that voters may be eager to express their dissatisfaction with the health care law, regardless of whom they blame for the shutdown. New Jersey’s special Senate election should have been a cakewalk for Newark Mayor Cory Booker. He’s a political celebrity, a local politician with a national following. In a decidedly Democratic state (Chris Christie notwithstanding), Mr. Booker figured to be a shoo-in, especially after Republicans nominated Steve Lonegan, widely characterized as a fringe candidate not exactly from the Tom Kean-Christie Whitman school of Northeastern Republicanism.

But something funny happened on the way to Mr. Booker’s coronation. The health care mandate kicked in, Mr. Lonegan turned Mr. Booker into a stand-in for President Barack Obama, and all of a sudden the race in New Jersey was just that—a race.

Mr. Booker held a 10-point lead going into Election Day on Oct. 16, so the odds were with him. But the momentum was not. Mr. Booker had enjoyed a 30-point lead only a few months ago, but that was before Mr. Lonegan managed the counterintuitive feat of turning the election into a mandate on Mr. Obama, who won New Jersey easily last year and in 2008.

If the Republicans can manage something similar next year, they may gain the strength they need to abolish Obamacare. But they can do that only if they get back to the business of governing.