The Republican Party in Congress could be on the verge of losing the 2018 midterm elections 16 months before they happen.
Since 2010, the GOP has been vowing and planning and stunting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, that transformative legislative Frankenstein that Democrats crammed through Congress in 2010 without a single Republican vote.
Back then, Americans also hated the uni-partisan measure to change one-sixth of the U.S. economy and the high-handed tactics to achieve “success.” So much so that at the first opportunity they turned the House of Representatives over to the GOP. And then the Senate. And an even larger House majority. And last fall the White House.
Voters were aghast at the amateur Obamacare rollout, the expensive shell website that didn’t work, and the president’s 36 repeated promises that if you liked your plan or doctor, you could keep them. And, by the way, the typical household will also save $2,500. The media has let those whoppers go because only Republican presidents lie.
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a master tactician. He better be and learn some magic skills too to get its version of Obamacare “repeal” through his rowdy caucus when Sen. John McCain returns from eye surgery. The GOP crowd looks like that little circus car disgorging clown after clown after clown, each one honking his horn and offering a personal version of Obamacare repeal.
The GOP House of Representatives put on the same me-first melee with its versions of repeal this past spring. Even if the Senate passes something, anything, their dueling versions must be ironed out in closed conference. Another prolonged display of indecisive incompetence.
Here’s the problem, created by Republicans themselves:
For seven years now they have justifiably and predictably denounced the massive law that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had to pass to read. Presidents as varied as Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson and congressional leaders like Mike Mansfield and Everett McKinley Dirksen have known and shown that in our representative democracy such transformative legislation requires bipartisan support to endure. That’s the case whether it’s Social Security in 1935 or the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
Republicans roused millions of grassroots supporters and raised hundreds of millions of donated dollars with repeal promises. Republican House members pretended to repeal the Affordable Care Act dozens of times, knowing full well their effort would die in then-Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Democratic Senate.
Now comes time to repeal and replace it for real and, well, golly gee, it’s kinda hard. Ominously for the party controlling Washington today, a new Gallup Poll finds people list government/leadership as the most serious problem, with health care a close second.
And a fractured Republican Party appears ineffective. Especially those senators, most of whom think they really ought to be ringmaster. Enter the clown car.
It’s like trying to untangle an entire party boat’s fishing lines during a storm with fish pulling on most hooks. And several captains fighting over the helm.
Accidental or intended, the evil genius of Obamacare’s 2,300 pages is that everything is tightly connected. Plus it created new perceived rights, which Americans are loathe to lose. As that reality sank into the country, Obamacare’s popularity regrew as if treated with Rogaine.
Opinions have changed such that the Senate’s replacement version, which most people don’t understand anyway, is about as unpopular now as Congress, if you can imagine such a thing.
Plus congressional Republicans, those evil rich people, have lost the crucial message fight. The real message is: Hello, everyone, the Affordable Care Act is brain-dead on life-support. You’re not going to have it. Period. So, the GOP team (don’t laugh) is replacing it with something better.
Instead, the Republican Party is playing defense, trying to argue hopelessly, amid the media’s deafening chorus of violins, that 18 million people losing health care coverage is better than 22 million. The reality is millions of those “losing” coverage were forced to have it under financial penalty. They don’t want it.
So despite President Donald Trump’s urgings, Republicans can play out their internecine struggles and perhaps produce a jury-rigged solution that few like. Or they can fail miserably and reap the whirlwind of revenge after seven years of promises and preparations.
Oh, and by the way, repeal aside, in 18 of the past 20 midterm elections, the president’s party has lost House members, an average turnover of 33 seats. If Democrats take back only 24, Nancy Pelosi becomes speaker again.
Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s. Follow him @AHMalcolm.