The Washington Post reports that the Republican consultant class is at it again, peddling skepticism when optimism is in order. This cadre, which has never really bought into the rather clear reality that Republicans’ opposition to Obamacare was the main reason why they picked up more House seats in 2010 than they had in any election since the release of Gone With the Wind (much like their opposition to Hillarycare had fueled them in 1994), is now offering up further Beltway-based skepticism about Obamacare’s political vulnerability.
Never mind that scholars from Dartmouth and elsewhere have shown that Democrats’ support for Obamacare is the main thing that, in the current political climate, enables voters to identify them as the liberals that they are. Those scholars concluded that candidates’ support for Obamacare led voters “to perceive them as more liberal,” “more ideologically distant,” and “out of step.” (Failure to recognize this was perhaps the Romney campaign’s single greatest mistake. As a result, President Obama, an arch-liberal, was widely perceived as being at least as moderate as the Massachusetts-squishy Romney. Emphasizing Obamacare would have meaningfully shifted that equation in voters’ minds.)
Similarly, there’s a creeping pessimism among the Republican consultant class about the idea of full repeal, even as everything is pointing toward very bright prospects for repeal if conservatives play their cards right. Many Republican consultants in the I-95 corridor view polls like the newly released New York Times poll as supporting their pessimism, when in reality, such polls should spawn the opposite reaction.
The Times asked people whether Obamacare “is working well and should be kept in place as is,” whether there “are some good things in the law, but some changes are needed to make it work better,” or whether it “has so much wrong with it that it needs to be repealed entirely.” Whenever a question is asked Goldilocks-style (this, that, or the thing in the middle), the moderate-sounding middle answer is usually going to draw the most support. That’s especially true when another answer is made to look in any way extreme (such as by adding the essentially redundant word “entirely” after “needs to be repealed”). Moreover, this question didn’t say a word about an Obamacare alternative – it was asked as if the choice were between Obamacare, a “better” Obamacare, and going back to the pre-Obamacare status quo.
In that light, the responses should be quite encouraging to conservatives. By a rather amazing seven-to-one margin, respondents preferred repealing Obamacare “entirely” (42 percent) to keeping it “as is” (6 percent). Imagine if Democrats had been able to look into a crystal ball in March 2010, when they narrowly passed Obamacare through the House, and had seen that, about an Olympiad later, the response that Obamacare “needs to be repealed entirely” would beat the response that Obamacare “should be kept as is” 42 percent to 6. Do you think all of those Democrats still would have cast the same votes? Moreover, the hypothetical (and largely fanciful) “better” Obamacare couldn’t even claim clear majority support, coming in right at 50 percent.
Imagine how polling would have looked if the three choices that the Times had given were whether Obamacare should remain the law of the land (whether in its current form or some changed, “better” form), whether it should be repealed and things should be left at that, or whether it should be repealed and an alternative should be passed. Of course, the Times won’t ask the question that way.
As anyone outside the Beltway can tell you, Obamacare is on the ropes. If a well-conceived conservative alternative is advanced, Obamacare can be knocked out. Don’t let any consultants tell you otherwise.
— Jeffrey H. Anderson is executive director of the 2017 Project, which is working to advance a conservative reform agenda.