Something remarkable happened at the Democratic National Convention earlier this month. After three years of reeling from the political damage wrought by Obamacare, which stroked even Massachusetts with a red brush, Democrats stood up and defended their law. Patients with pre-existing conditions took to the podium. Health secretary Kathleen Sebelius had a prime speaking slot. The delegates wore “Obamacare as [a] badge of honor,” as Greg Sargent gushed.
But then something even more remarkable happened. Despite the Democrats’ collective bear hug, the polls didn’t budge. And they still haven’t. According to a Rasmussen survey taken last week, likely voters favor repealing Obamacare by 11 points. The numbers have been fairly static for two years.
Ronald Reagan was called the Teflon president because liberal attacks didn’t stick and his popularity remained high. Obamacare has achieved the opposite immunity: defenses of it bounce away and the public goes on loathing. The American people have made up their minds. The Tea Party won the argument.
And that’s what makes the Republican strategy towards Obamacare perplexing. The message is muddled and occasionally nonexistent. The Romney for President website lists several sensible health reforms and Romney himself says he supports the full repeal of Obamacare. Then he suddenly defends a couple of its provisions, then clarifies his position again, while discordant aides chime in from all directions. Full-throated, expository attacks on the law are rarely made.
Every Republican claims to be against “Obamacare.” But “Obamacare” isn’t a single issue. It’s a gift basket to a Republican campaign stuffed with everything Americans hate about big government. Look, here’s a punitive mandate. And here’s a consolidation of power in the bureaucracy. And this greasy-palms crony capitalism should be helpful. Not to mention a trampling of religious liberty, a technocratic advisory board with authority over Medicare cuts, a heinous new tax on medical devices that starts next year, and more than 1,200 waivers issued to lucky (and mostly unionized) businesses.
The gigantic, shambling abomination that is Obamacare contains so much ammunition for conservatives that the NRA should be scoring it.
Let’s take a look at some of the recent developments:
New taxes, shady accounting, crony capitalism…this is why people mumble bitterly about Washington. There are certain provisions in Obamacare — coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, for example — that are popular. But they’re mightily outweighed by just about everything else. Attention focused on the waivers or the medical devices tax, with digestible explanations by Republican candidates, would damage Obamacare’s popularity even further.
This sort of meddling and rearranging is what Democrats do when they’re in power. It’s what they tried to do to the energy market with cap and trade, and it’s what they’ve already done to the student loan market. Americans overwhelmingly think government is doing too much. Loud opposition to these bureaucratic Tetris games must be the centerpiece of any Republican strategy.
For the last month of the campaign, Romney should pivot hard in this direction. It will put him in a sticky position thanks to his own health care scheme in Massachusetts. But Romney’s been wrangling with flip-flopping allegations for years. His campaign needs an energy boost and time is running out.
He should grab the Obamacare gift basket and run with it. The political benefits will outweigh the MSNBC snipes. It’s how 2010 was won and it’s what the public wants to hear now.