A congressional candidate named Evan Jenkins, currently a state senator, launched an interesting campaign ad yesterday, which perhaps inadvertently told us something important about the state of the debate over health care.
For those who can’t watch clips online, here’s a transcript of the spot:
Earlene Anglin: When Grayson was diagnosed with autism, it truly felt like a bomb went off. We found out that the insurance companies refused this treatment that we knew could help him. It was such a lonely, devastating feeling. I decided to contact our state senator, Evan Jenkins.Evan Jenkins: She told me their story, and you know, no child should be denied health care just because of a disability.Earlene Anglin: He didn’t care to go up against the big insurance companies, to make sure Grayson got what he needed. He cared so much about my son. It meant the world to me.Evan Jenkins: I’m Evan Jenkins and I approve this message.
At first blush, this probably seems like an ad from a Democrat, boasting about taking on the insurance industry, using the power of government to help a family receive affordable medical care.
But it’s not. As David Nir explained, Evan Jenkins is a conservative Republican, running for Congress against a Democratic incumbent in West Virginia. In fact, Jenkins is running in a district that Mitt Romney won with 65% of the vote.
This context matters quite a bit. For all the rhetoric from the right about allowing “free-market principles” to guide the health care system, and how the public doesn’t want Big Government interfering with how Americans receive care, the truth is, even some red-state Republicans have decided the key to electoral victory is to reassure voters: they’ll use government to extend health care access, just like Democrats.
It’s not just Jenkins.
Let’s not forget that when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) launched his first major ad buy of the year in his home state, he pushed a specific message: McConnell used government to help people in need access affordable health care.
Soon after, in Michigan, Republican Senate hopeful Terri Lynn Land said she believes that health care “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.”
More recently, one of the nation’s most conservative governors, Indiana’s Mike Pence (R), announced he’d devised a plan to accept Medicaid expansion funds through “Obamacare.” The Republican governor defended the move, saying, “Debates that happen in Washington, D.C., pretty easily get far afield of the real-world impacts on real people.”
All the while, most of GOP has given up on its “repeal” crusade, too.
During the 2008 presidential race, then-candidate Barack Obama talked about a broader ambition: changing the trajectory of the mainstream political conversation, in much the way Reagan did. We can have a larger discussion about the scope of President Obama’s success in this area, but when it comes to health care, when we see red-state Republicans talking up government action to ensure access, it certainly seems the debate has moved to the left.
One can certainly argue that it’s a shell game, and that Republicans are only talking this way to get votes, but therein lies the point: these GOP officials and candidates see the direction of the political winds and now believe the key to winning is sounding more like Obama than Ted Cruz when talking about health care.
That, in and of itself, is a victory.