The Corner

Politics & Policy

What Does an Incumbent Think Is Worth Losing an Election?

Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Molly Riley/Reuters)

Over on the home page, Dan McLaughlin has an excellent and persuasive column arguing that Republican senators should do what they believe is right, regardless of any potential political risk in November: Consider President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court and, presuming they find the nominee qualified and worthy addition to the court, vote to confirm the nominee.

He notes, “this is not the thing you trade away to win one election; it is the thing you win many elections to be able to do. It is what political capital is for. Democrats felt the same way about Obamacare, which is why so many of their legislators were willing to sacrifice their careers to pass it.”

This is not hyperbole. Democrats knew that they were not winning the public-opinion fight over the Affordable Care Act in 2009, and that many House Democrats who voted for it were likely to be goners in the midterms. Time magazine reported that then-speaker Nancy Pelosi thought it was a worthwhile trade, if necessary.

The health care bill was unpopular, and members from swing districts worried they’d lose their seats over it. But the damage was likely already done—they could be attacked for trying and failing, or they could be attacked for trying and succeeding. Pelosi told colleagues she believed health care reform was an accomplishment so monumental it would be worth losing the majority over. The point of power, to her, couldn’t be just to hold on to it—it had to be to achieve things that would benefit people.

One of those House Democrats who lost his seat, Tom Perriello, writes he never regretted his decision:

In 2010, as a freshman congressman, I stared down the same threats that many Republican representatives face today, and I had to balance what I thought was right versus what I knew was politically advantageous. I was a Democrat representing a red Virginia district. Back then, a vote backing the Affordable Care Act — which Republican strategists had already branded “Obamacare” — meant facing millions of dollars in right-wing attack ads and almost certain defeat at the polls that fall.

My critics were right: I did lose my seat. But I never regretted my vote. Not once.

The GOP-controlled Congress repealed Obamacare’s individual mandate in 2017, and in 2019 Congress repealed the so-called “Cadillac” tax on health-insurance benefits, an excise tax on medical devices, and the Health Insurance Tax. But otherwise, the legislation remains intact — the expansion of Medicaid eligibility, the changes to the individual market, the employer mandate, the ban on restricting applicants with pre-existing conditions, dependents are permitted to remain on their parents’ insurance plan until their 26th birthday . . . to almost all of the House Democrats, those sorts of seemingly permanent changes to how Americans get health insurance were worth sacrificing their House majority.

What do Republicans believe is worth sacrificing a Senate seat over?

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