The GOP Senate candidate in Michigan, Terri Lynn Land, is in a spot because she favors repeal but is well aware the Medicaid expansion is set to kick in there this spring for over 400,000 people. In a statement late yesterday, Land’s campaign pretty much abandoned repeal and embraced the expansion. But note the specific language: “Terri believes that healthcare should be affordable and accessible to all Americans and that we as a society have a moral obligation to help those who are not as fortunate.”
Good idea! That is awfully similar to what her Dem opponent, Rep. Gary Peters, says: “It’s a core belief of mine that everybody, no matter who you are, should have access to affordable health care.”
Meanwhile, the expected GOP Senate candidate in North Carolina, Thom Tillis, is getting skewered by the local press over his equivocating health care stance. He wants to replace Obamacare with something — but he can’t embrace the alternative offered by home state Senator Richard Burr without getting hit from the right. But when speaking generallyabout the issue, he says that of course he’s not “against having some sort of safety net for preexisting conditions.”
Confident Republicans generally assume the Affordable Care Act will produce huge GOP gains in the 2014 midterms. The law is unpopular (though what’s in the law isn’t) and the party figures it can simply bash “Obamacare” for the next several months, then watch the victories roll in.
But if Republicans enjoy such a sizable advantage on health care, they have a funny way of showing it.
The first hint of what’s to come emerged about a month ago in Kentucky, when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) launched his first major ad buy, pushing a specific message: McConnell used government to help people in need access affordable health care. A few weeks later, the Chamber of Commerce launched a new ad on McConnell’s behalf, saying he wants to “fix,” not end, the ACA.
Greg Sargent added today that other Republican candidates this year are starting to sound “an awful lot like the most ardent supporters of the Affordable Care Act.”
And it’s against this backdrop that congressional Republicans are going out of their way to say they, not those rascally Democrats, are the true champions of Medicare’s socialized insurance system.
I don’t doubt that politics is trumping sincerity when it comes to GOP messaging, but therein lies the point.
To hear Republicans tell it, Americans are ready to embrace conservative solutions to health care challenges. The public has no use for the popular provisions in “Obamacare,” the argument goes, so all GOP candidates have to do is tell voters they want the opposite of what Democrats are offering – the free market will take care of people once the government gets out of the way.
But if Republicans really believed this to be true, why are they pushing a far less conservative election-year message? Why are Senate candidates moving away from “I promise to repeal Obamacare” and towards “Healthcare should be affordable and accessible to all Americans and we as a society have a moral obligation to help those who are not as fortunate”?
To be sure, this isn’t a universal phenomenon. In Arkansas, Georgia, and elsewhere, for example, we’re still seeing far-right state policymakers move quickly to kill Medicaid expansion, regardless of the real-world consequences. I’m not suggesting that Republicans are moving to the left on health care across the board. They’re not.
But when it comes to competitive statewide races, it seems GOP officials are coming to an important realization: vowing to take away families’ health care benefits on purpose isn’t a big vote-getter. The public may have been led to believe they dislike the Affordable Care Act, but there’s no underlying appetite for far-right health care policies.