In history, there are make-or-break moments.
After New England Patriots star quarterback Drew Bledsoe suffered internal bleeding in week two of the 2001 season, the team relied on baby-faced Tom Brady, a second-year quarterback with no professional experience. He proceeded to lead the team to a Super Bowl victory that year and later won three more, solidifying his case for the Hall of Fame.
In contrast, the San Diego Chargers hedged their future on the back of the second overall pick of the 1998, Ryan Leaf. Leaf was a top college quarterback, and the Chargers had high hopes for his success. However, Leaf never lived up to his potential: immaturity, poor play and rocky relations with his teammates and the press left him unemployed just three years later.
Elected Republicans face a similar pivotal moment as they attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. After years of criticizing the policy and attempting extreme measures to reverse it, Republicans now have the opportunity they have long pined for — yet the past few weeks of commotion have revealed they are woefully unprepared to seize it.
Which begs the question: Now thrust into the spotlight, will Republicans channel Brady or Leaf?
The GOP have a path to Brady-like success if they can win on three key fronts: message, personnel and results.
Although Brady was initially tasked with holding down the fort, his wild success earned him the starting job. Republicans should aim for a similar narrative. The GOP needs to make its healthcare plan more than a mere replacement by creating its own unique policy proposal.
Then, when they frame Obamacare as a failed relic, they can invoke the “out with the old, in with the new” storyline that led to Brady’s fame.
As great as Brady is on his own, he also knows how to use the talents of the players around him to get the win. Success takes teamwork, so Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and President Donald Trump need to play ball.
As a caucus leader and leading conservative thinker, Ryan should be the intellectual mastermind behind crafting the policy. He should then hand off to Trump, who can do what he does best: sell. His intuitive understanding of the media and ability to fire up a crowd can drum up the critical political capital and media buzz to help push the plan to the finish line.
Brady knows that you win a game on the scoreboard. To be successful, the GOP must share this focus. Thanks to spin from the Obama administration, the metric that matters is the number of Americans who gain healthcare from their policy — that is where political points are scored. In other words, the Republican replacement plan must beat Obamacare’s score of 20 million newly insured in order to claim victory.
Alternatively, the GOP could fail as miserably and as publicly as Ryan Leaf if they do not quickly pass a replacement plan, fracturing the party and mishandling the media in the process.
In a harbinger of things to come, Leaf fumbled his very first snap in the NFL. Similarly, the biggest potential failure would be a slow replacement process. If congressional Republicans roll back Obamacare but cannot get a plan passed, it would be a nightmare for Republicans. Any delay that uninsures 20 million Americans for an extended period of time will likely not be forgotten by 2018.
Leaf famously had public disagreements with his teammates, creating a friction that impeded his ability to succeed. The same holds true for an ever-discordant GOP, that will need to earn support from both the moderate and Tea Party wings to pass any repeal-and-replace measure. Any Republican infighting could cost them critical votes, especially in the Senate, where Republicans hold a slim majority.
Republicans must also be effective in communicating their plan to the press. In a time of heightened media scrutiny of politics, a lack of transparency can spark backlash. It is also worth noting that a Commonwealth Fund poll found 74 percent of Republicans who signed up for health coverage or enrolled in Medicaid due to provisions in Obamacare were satisfied with their coverage, and this group would be outraged if their healthcare suddenly disappears. Unfavorable media coverage or a barrage of angry constituents could threaten the tight GOP caucus.
Only time will tell whether the repeal and replace effort will leave Republicans with a legacy like Brady or Leaf. Either way, history remembers both the great players and the great disappointments.
Christian Mesa and Aaron Bennett are both sophomores in the College. PLAYING POLITICS appears every other Friday.