Ezra Klein at the Washington Post outlines how the GOP managed to take an idea they promoted for at least two decades, the individual mandate, and within two years set the stage for the Supreme Court to declare it unconstitutional:
The first step was, perhaps, the hardest: The Republican Party had to take an official and unanimous stand against the wisdom and constitutionality of the individual mandate. Typically, it’s not that difficult for the opposition party to oppose the least popular element in the majority party’s largest initiative. But the individual mandate was a policy idea Republicans had thought of in the late-1980s and supported for two decades. They had, in effect, to convince every Republican to say that the policy they had been supporting was an unconstitutional assault on liberty.But they succeeded. In December 2009 every Senate Republican voted to call the individual mandate unconstitutional. They did this even though a number of them had their names on bills that included an individual mandate. (For more on the political history of the mandate, see this post.)
The unity among Senate Republicans reflected a unity among all the institutions associated with the Republican Party. Fox News and right-wing talk radio pushed the idea that the mandate was unconstitutional. Republican attorney generals began pushing the idea that the individual mandate was unconstitutional. Conservative think tanks—including the Heritage Foundation, which arguably brought the mandate to Washington and the Republican Party in 1989 — began releasing a steady stream of material arguing that the mandate was unconstitutional. Conservative legal scholars began developing arguments showing the individual mandate was unconstitutional. Within a matter of months, the fact that the individual mandate was unconstitutional was as much a part of Republican Party dogma as “no new taxes.”
All of this forced the controversy over the individual mandate into the mainstream media, too. After all, if one of America’s two major political parties thinks the most significant health reform since Medicare is unconstitutional, well, that’s a story! And, as most Americans are not constitutional law scholars, it made the individual mandate look like questionable policy. As Yale law professor Jack Balkin put it to me in the New Yorker, “If you’re reading articles in the Times describing the case against the mandate, you assume this is a live controversy.”
And this folks is just how the modern day Republican party “rolls.”
Update: Here is the video clip that Ezra references in the above text.
Update II: Ezra has even more background, dating back to Nixon:
Back when Democrats were pushing single-payer plans, Republicans like President Richard Nixon were arguing for plans with an employer mandate. Then President Clinton embraced an employer mandate and Republicans turned to an individual mandate. Then President Obama embraced an individual mandate and Republicans moved to get the individual mandate ruled unconstitutional and taken off the table forever. And they might succeed.