Now that Republicans control the government, it's widely assumed they will "own" the adverse effects of repealing ObamaCare without an adequate replacement.
Stalwart Never Trump-er Jennifer Rubin, for instance, writes: "Rather than be an 'easy' win early in the new president's term, it may turn into a knock-down-drag-out fight, or even a punt to delay action. What sounds good in a campaign ad or a white paper often becomes much more problematic when facing the consequences of such a monumental about-face in health-care policy."
Sounds reasonable, right? As President Obama himself notes, a large chunk of those who gained access to health insurance through the Affordable Care Act are the same working-class whites who buoyed Trump's Electoral College victory. Strip these voters of their health-care plans and face their wrath: If I'm honest with myself, I'd make the same assumption.
Yet as the annus horribilis known as 2016 reaches its sad conclusion, we should instead ask ourselves: Why, of all times, would Republicans begin compromising now? If your party just pulled one of the unlikeliest inside-straights in the history of American politics, wouldn't you feel emboldened rather than cautious?
Consider. Donald Trump's run for the presidency was, on its face, a textbook example of how not to conduct a national campaign. He mired himself in nonrelevant personal vendettas. He lost all three debates. He demonstrated throughout a total lack of preparation and knowledge of public policy. He alienated the senior leadership of his own party, one member of which chastised him for making a "racist comment." He was revealed to have boasted about committing sexual assault with impunity. You know the story: He won anyway. LOL Nothing Matters.
If such an improbable feat owes more to Donald Trump's demagogic appeal among white voters whom "neoliberalism" left behind, consider, too, that embattled conservative Republican senators like Wisconsin's Ron Johnson and Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey outpolled Trump on Election Day. Such Republicans performed better than expected — just as they did in 2014, when Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) was nearly upset by GOP challenger Ed Gillespie, and when Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, who, despite wrecking his state's finances, defied expectations and easily won reelection. And just as they did in 2013, when Ken Cuccinelli, then the attorney general of Virginia whose social conservatism seemed wildly out of step with the state's growing population of minorities and college-educated whites, nearly upset Terry McAuliffe in a closely-contested gubernatorial race. The reason for the razor-thin margin? You guessed it — ObamaCare.
With the exception of Obama's reelection, the politics of 2009 to the present has been one long arc of Republicans being rewarded at the ballot box despite massively resisting compromise with the president, blocking judicial and executive appointments, and unnecessarily contriving fiscal crises.
Why will this time be different?
Because, you say, ObamaCare has, for all its problems, delivered material benefits — and those benefits won't be eliminated or reduced without a fight. "Look, the Affordable Care Act benefits a huge number of Trump voters," Obama said in a podcast with former senior aide David Axelrod. "There are a lot of folks in places like West Virginia or Kentucky who didn't vote for Hillary, didn't vote for me, but are being helped by this."
Let's look at Kentucky, since the president brought it up. Republicans just won control of its legislature for the first time since 1920. And last year, it elected as governor the Tea Party outsider Matt Bevin, who had campaigned on a promise to roll back the state's seemingly successful ObamaCare health exchange. Now, it's true that dislodging the core elements of the Affordable Care Act has proved to be a thorny task, as it may for the Trump administration and congressional Republicans next year.
But the point here is about permission structure. If Republicans were mice in a maze, the politics of polarization and white identitarianism has rewarded them handsomely at nearly every turn. If they face backlash, they have the cushion of favorable midterm Senate map in 2018 and a House majority that is likely safe until 2020. The GOP thus has good reason to shoot for the moon on ObamaCare, taxes, and entitlement reform.
Rubin may be right that Republicans face a "knock-down-drag-out fight" over ObamaCare. But if that happens, don't expect voters to punish them for it — or for anything — anytime soon.