For seven years, we heard that all the Republican Party needed in order to repeal Obamacare and end the economic nightmare it represents was to get them the House, Senate, and White House. In 2010, they got the House. In 2014, they got the Senate. Last year, the last piece of the Obamacare-repeal puzzle was put into place with President Trump’s victory.
The results: nothing.
The White House has taken strides in limiting Obamacare’s reach, but to make a real difference they’ll need Capitol Hill to do its job. They’ve had that opportunity throughout the first year of the Trump administration and have failed spectacularly. Now, things are turning for the worse as they always tend to do when you give the political winds enough time to shift.
Obamacare is making a comeback in the eyes of voters. This was demonstrated in microcosm Tuesday night:
Democrats are hopeful their victories are a harbinger of further gains as they look to capitalize on the law’s rising popularity in polls — and repeal legislation’s deep unpopularity — with more ballot initiatives, legislative efforts and campaign messages.
In Maine, voters passed a ballot initiative that would expand Medicaid to an estimated 70,000 residents by a 59-41 margin, doing an end run around Republican Governor Paul LePage, who has vetoed five bills to do so.
A year ago today, just following election day, public disapproval for Obamacare was clear. 48.7% opposed while only 40.3% approved. As of the end of last month, the poll numbers have reversed according to Real Clear Politics, as 51% approved and 39% opposed.
What happened? Why is the law, after seven years of dismal polling, suddenly so popular? Could it be that the GOP only knows how to sell their ideas when they know they have no chance of getting them passed? After all, this is the party that boldly passed a full repeal in 2015 and slammed it on the President’s desk knowing that he would certainly veto it. Their boldness faded quickly once President Trump won. Suddenly, the House was only able to pass a feeble “tweak and rebrand” of the law instead of the repeal and replace they promised. They still did better than the Senate who was incapable of passing anything despite four valid attempts.
Two things have caused this…
Insanely bad messaging
When the facts are on your side, you stick to the facts. The GOP declined to use this very basic logic and decided they needed to get fancy with their repeal and replacement efforts. They abandoned the fiscal conservatism they often espouse during campaign season by not acknowledging the tax-payer burden. Then, they dismissed the federalism they occasionally attempt to embrace by only pretending to give power back to the states and individuals regarding health care. Their variation of “repeal and replace” did nothing to remove the federal government from the healthcare equation. In fact, they tried to pass off false federalism through block grants in the Senate’s last attempt.
With all the power they needed, suddenly their messaging turned to crap. They hammered Obamacare when they knew they couldn’t repeal it but once that became an option, they started using fancy terminology and confusing concepts to make excuses why they couldn’t deliver on what they promised. At the core of this bad messaging is one fatal flaw…
An unwillingness to educate Americans
What Barack Obama and his cronies did to pass Obamacare was devious, conniving, and wrong. However, they did do one thing right. They attempted to educate Americans. They hit the road talking about the benefits of passing Obamacare. The President himself talked many times about how “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” and other misleading platitudes. They got the messaging right even if the message itself was wrong.
Instead of taking a page out of Obama’s playbook, the GOP decided that once they had the ability to take the high road, they would instead descend into secrecy. Instead of championing their cause, they worked on it in the background. Instead of education Americans, they kept us is the dark as much as possible.
When they finally revealed each of their failed plans, they did so at the last minute to minimize critiquing of their efforts. This was a horrendous mistake. It’s a strategy you should never use in transparent governance, but even if you’re willing to stoop that low you should only do so if you’re absolutely certain you have all the votes you need. This strategy is designed to minimize the risks of representatives having their minds changed by constituents and lobbyists.
When you’re still in the process of changing minds in order to win enough votes, you take it to the public. You sell your ideas. You put pressure on anyone on the fence by getting their constituents engaged. Keeping everyone in the dark as they did set them up for failure from the start.
Is it too late?
Technically, no. However, the GOP finds itself in political limbo leading into a midterm election. If they pass something now that isn’t very popular, they’ll lose. If they pass nothing, they’ll lose. If they can somehow hit a home run, they can come out of the midterm elections intact.
The problem they’re faced with is trying to hit a home run when public sentiment is shifting in favor of keeping Obamacare. Heck, more Americans every day are buying into the false concept that we need to expand it.
In July, there was a 2.5% gap between favoring and disapproving Obamacare. That happens to be around the time when they should have been able to pass a repeal. Instead, they floundered. Now that the gap is in double digits and popularity of Obamacare is rising, they may be dead in the water. They lost the opportunity to blame the Democrats for Obamacare’s failures because they’ve done enough to hurt it. Mainstream media will blame any future Obamacare failures on the GOP’s unwillingness to nurture it. They’ll paint Obama and the Democrats as heroes for giving the GOP something to work with while simultaneously hanging every failure on President Trump and the Republicans.
The best thing the GOP can do is to take the high road, repeal Obamacare, and thoroughly explain to America why it’s the best course of action. They won’t do this. They almost certainly won’t repeal Obamacare in a meaningful way, if at all. If they pass anything, it will be something that allows them to take full ownership of the government’s overreach into the health insurance industry. Whatever losses they face in the midterms are 100% their fault.