A Tea Party member reaches for a pamphlet titled "The Impact of Obamacare", at a "Food for Free Minds Tea Party Rally" in Littleton, New Hampshire in this October 27, 2012.
Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters

A muddled message on medical care

Running against health care is proving to be far more challenging than Republicans hoped in 2014. Last week, for example, the New York Times asked Joni Ernst, the far-right U.S. Senate candidate in Iowa, about her intention to cut domestic spending. The Republican candidate said there are “a number of things that need to be trimmed across the board,” before turning her attention to social-insurance programs.
 
“What we have to do is protect those that are on Medicaid now; those that are on Social Security now. That, we need to protect. We have made promises to these people,” Ernst said. For emphasis, she added, “[T]hose that are already engaged in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, we need to protect that for them.”
 
There is. of course, a problem: Ernst is a fierce critic of the Affordable Care Act, which she wants to repeal. In practice, if the Republican candidate has her way, roughly 120,000 Iowans who “are on Medicaid now” would lose access to medical care. In effect, Ernst is trying to have it both ways – she wants to honor the “promises” made to people who rely on social-insurance programs, but she also wants to repeal the ACA (while privatizing Social Security and turning Medicare into a voucher scheme).
 
But Ernst’s position is almost coherent compared to former Sen. Scott Brown’s (R-Mass.) latest pitch in New Hampshire.
Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown on Thursday touted his votes for Romneycare, the Massachusetts health care plan adopted under former Gov. Mitt Romney, at a forum held to criticize Obamacare.
 
In remarks to about 10 seniors, Brown said he shouldn’t be speaking about what he did as a state senator in Massachusetts, but the Massachusetts health plan he voted for in 2006 addressed problems with the uninsured. “We addressed pre-existing conditions. We addressed catastrophic care,” Brown said.
Hmm. So Scott Brown opposes “Obamacare” and wants to see the federal law scrapped. At the same time, Scott Brown supports “Romneycare,” which is effectively the same thing.
 
It led Jed Lewison to ask whether Brown now believes “people in his old state deserve all the benefits of Obamacare, but not the people in his new state.”
 
E.J. Dionne Jr. gets the larger context just right.
The Affordable Care Act was supposed to be a slam-dunk issue for Republicans in this fall’s elections. Karl Rove told us so in April, writing that “Obamacare is and will remain a political problem for Democrats.”
 
So how’s that Obamacare thing working out for the GOP?
Republicans are scrapping their anti-ACA ads; red-state Democrats are starting to see the ACA as a positive; and GOP candidates are struggling to oppose and support the law simultaneously.
 
For much of the right, all that’s left is to run against a tarnished brand name, because once people realize what it’s in the Affordable Care Act, they like it just fine.
 
A Democratic pollster told E.J. that when focus-group participants, outside the Republican base, are given details about what the law does and how it works, “people come around and say, ‘That’s not so bad, what’s everybody excited about?’”
 
What a good question.
 

Affordable Care Act, Health Care, Iowa, Joni Ernst, New Hampshire, Obamacare and Scott Brown

A muddled message on medical care