The only thing worse than failing to repeal Obamacare is to misrepresent free market health care and actually make Obamacare popular. How is it that even though Obamacare is worse than ever, its polling numbers have surged to record highs since Trump and Republicans began talking, err, mumbling, err … ahh … bungling health care?
Call it GOP black magic.
How Republicans turned a touchdown into an interception
Shortly after the election, sensing the coming act of GOP political adultery, I laid out a simple strategy for Congress to fully repeal Obamacare in early January with 51 votes in the Senate and have the bill on President Trump’s desk waiting for him after the inaugural ball. They could have had a short transition period, enough to allow insurers to offer much cheaper plans for next year so that the electorate could immediately see the positive results of a post-Obamacare market. The benefits would have outweighed any of the negatives to those who were dependent on Obamacare.
Then I laid out a blueprint for free market health care ideas that they could have incorporated into the second budget reconciliation bill later in the year, during the transition period, to further drive down prices and create a real market that would spawn an innovation revolution in health care and health insurance.
Repealing the law immediately on the first use of political capital, buttressed by the righteous indignation of the campaign message, would have had a shock and awe effect and would have actualized the promise most Americans were waiting for. Much like ripping a band-aid off in one shot instead of with painstaking slowness, the pre-existing condition issue would never have been the primary focus of the debate. The default position would have been the removal of Obamacare and the lowering of prices and raising of competition being more favorable for most of the country.
In making the case for immediate action, Trump could have blamed Democrats and government-run health care as the source of the pre-existing condition problem because they have tethered insurance to employment, made it more expensive, and crowded out innovation and private sector ideas, such as health status insurance. Then he should immediately have returned to offense, utilizing the bully pulpit to relentlessly focus on the immoral destruction of the health care market, with premiums as high as $50,000 in Anchorage and no insurers left in eastern Tennessee.
Instead, thanks to their duplicity, equivocation, incompetence, and championing the messaging and focus of the other side, Republicans have managed to turn the GOP’s electoral golden goose into a losing issue. Rather than having a party that articulates our vision of health care, that uses the slam-dunk indictment of what is actually going on before our eyes with the destruction of Obamacare, conservatives are stuck with a party that publicly adopted the entire Democrat premise and downright obsessive focus on pre-existing conditions in a vacuum.
“We better be careful with pre-existing conditions,” they declare in public. “We have to make sure people don’t get thrown off their insurance.” “We will be blamed.”
Well, three months of championing the message of the other side does wonders on public opinion, which is extremely fickle when it comes to policy issues. When it comes to issue advocacy, it’s all about the messaging and focus, and the GOP has managed to focus the public’s attention on the Democrat talking point rather than the on the easy conservative talking points that most people understood intuitively before they tossed the political interception. They make it seem as if Obamacare is the stable policy of the status quo and that they are embarking on some risky scheme that could only hope to come to the ankles of the great Obamacare.
For example, in an interview with Bloomberg News, Trump said the GOP bill “will be every bit as good on pre-existing conditions as Obamacare.” Gee, with messaging like that, the best you can do is get to par, but most likely you look like the poor man’s version of Obamacare. They are competing with Democrats on their messaging. Of course, you can never get better than Obamacare in “covering” everyone because it mandates exactly that. Oh, and it destroyed health care in America as just a minor collateral damage to achieve that result. At this pace, every state will soon look like eastern Tennessee where cancer patients can’t get any coverage. The only solution is single-payer, and when that choice is articulated to the people, they clearly reject it.
Voters in Colorado, while supporting Hillary overall for president, overwhelmingly swatted down a plan to implement single-payer ColoradoCare by a margin of 80 to 20 percent. Most voters would have understood if everything was not in place from day one so long as they saw that Republicans were keeping their word, properly articulating a united vision, and actualizing a downward trajectory in costs.
The president did a good job during his February speech before Congress articulating the case against Obamacare. But instead of following up with a series of policy speeches throughout the country, Trump just faxed it in on the cheap, asking Congress to “do something on Obamacare.” Rather than uniting with conservatives behind full repeal, he attacked conservatives for fulfilling the promise and supported a more insolvent version of Obamacare. He has been on defense ever since. Now that conservatives have agreed to a 20 perecent repeal, remarkably, it is still too much for liberal Republicans. Yet Trump is not publicly shaming those Republicans for violating their campaign promises with as much passion as he pressured conservatives by name for upholding their promise. Now, we have a party full of guilt, division, defensive posturing, and hypocrisy, which is a recipe for making Obamacare popular again.
There is a broader lesson from Obamacare on political warfare
In a polarized country, we will always face fierce opposition to any change, but making change immediately, definitively, and with moral clarity would have punched through the clutter and resonated with the broad middle. Most swing voters respect a show of strength but rebel against weakness and vacillation like dogs smelling blood. Instead, Republicans placed themselves in the most untenable position imaginable. They trash-talked Obamacare for six years, right up through this election, as if it was the most harmful and illegal policy conceivable. Then the minute they got into power, they began equivocating and then, eventually, publicly extolling the virtues of the law. This is analogous to attacking an opposing army from an exposed area and remaining in that vulnerable position indefinitely, neither retreating nor conquering, which is the worst position ever to hold militarily.
The AHCA is like a kidney stone- the House doesn’t care what happens to it, as long as they can pass it. #sassywithmassie
— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) May 3, 2017
This is the same problem we are experiencing with so many other issues.
Republicans said that the Iran deal would destroy the world and was completely illegal. As such, they had an obligation to get rid of it (by mere inaction) from day one. By keeping it, defending “the good parts,” and equivocating, they look weak and phony. They have turned an issue that polled 2-1 in their favor to 2-1 against them.
Thus, in our polarized country, there is no such thing as lukewarm hell in politics. You either have the audacity to act and make your position the default, or you look weak and codify the other side’s position as the true north.
This is why, despite recent news that premiums will skyrocket this year, nobody is even focused on the problems of Obamacare. They are focusing on the problems of repealing Obamacare … because that is the GOP focus.
The only pre-existing condition we should be discussing at this point is the political malpractice inherent in the Republican Party.
Author: Daniel Horowitz
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.