There is an old expression often affixed to those with a knack for ruining even the most promising opportunities. These are people who “could spoil a free lunch.” And as Democrats prepare for the second round of debates the next two evenings, they may be doing just that on the issue of greatest personal concern to American voters: health care.
But before we get into the how and why, let’s see if we have all this straight. The Democrats pass Obamacare in 2010. They get shellacked — Obama’s words, not mine — and lose control of the House of Representatives in that year’s midterm elections. Once the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is implemented, Dems lose the Senate in 2014 and then the presidency in 2016, with Donald Trump and Republicans down the line promising to repeal the unpopular health care program thrust upon the American public and replace it with something better.
With the GOP in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, it takes a good long time but finally an Obamacare repeal bill cranks out, which passes the House and comes up for a vote in the Senate, where the outcome hangs on the vote of a single senator: John McCain. After campaigning for reelection on a promise to repeal the ACA, and then vowing on the day of the vote to support the bill that would accomplish that very goal, McCain reverses course, votes no, and kills the repeal — his last public act before death.
As Democrats seek to regain control of the House in 2018, they seize on McCain’s gift of the health care issue, as if they had not made a hash of it already. But they rightly assert that the GOP has failed to keep its promise to repeal the ACA (a redux of Bush 41’s “read my lips, no new taxes”?). Thus, despite the failure of Obamacare, they carpe diem on the single most important issue in last year’s midterm elections and win control of the House.
You would think, then, that the Democrats would again seize the issue for the 2020 presidential election, especially with great uncertainties continuing to hang over it. After all, political strategy 101 dictates that you play up your proven strengths and capitalize on your opponent’s demonstrable weaknesses. Promising to protect the health care status quo — weakened as it is by eight years of Obamacare but nevertheless viewed by voters after all this time as an entitlement — would again provide a crucial advantage for the Democrats.
But instead of exploiting this position, and in perhaps the best evidence of how deranged the party has become in the Trump era, the two dozen candidates (though not including frontrunner Joe Biden) vying for the right to take on the president have completely squandered their advantage on the issue. In the first debate, most of them raised their hands for the abolition of private health insurance in favor of a government-run Medicare for All program — at a cost of at least $30 trillion over ten years — and then doubled down by almost unanimously promising to deliver taxpayer-funded health care to illegal immigrants. Will they triple down under the withering questioning of the CNN moderators (sarcasm intended) these next two evenings?
You would think these career politicians would understand how wildly unpopular, toxic even, these ideas truly are. But even if they unexpectedly pull back from the edge of a full government takeover of health care in this next round of debates, the die has been cast. Sound bites – and, of course, the raising of hands for abolishing private health insurance and free health care for immigrants — from the first debate will be used generously by the Trump reelection campaign.
Indeed, the Democrats seem to be trying to throw away their best issue, unless, of course, Biden bucks the rising tide of socialist thought within the party and wins the nomination. But then, would the former vice president be able to energize the party’s radical base, which demands a full government takeover of health care?
This further demonstrates the very-much-unsettled battle for control of the Democratic Party. Never mind the Dems’ new public face of unity forced on them by Trump’s attacks on the Squad, which clearly were designed to define the party in the image of the young militants. The severe generational and ideological divide between the old face of Democratic radicalism — Pelosi, Schumer, and company — and the new, truly extreme face of AOC+3 that now sucks up most of the available oxygen persists. The issue of health care perfectly exemplifies the Squad’s ascendancy and the party’s dilemma.
Do the Dems continue down the leftward road, true to their belief that the government knows best how to handle the single most personal issue on the docket even as they invite defeat, or do they attempt a U-turn and go after those Trump voters in the heartland who abandoned them in 2016? They cannot do both. And even if they choose an about-face on the issue of health care, is it already too late?
The facts on the ground – including the Dems’ inherent disadvantage in running against an incumbent in a strong economy — provide all the more reason for Democrats to cling to the one big issue on which they apparently have a built-in advantage: the issue that delivered them control of the House just eight months ago. But because of their shortsighted and cowardly pandering to their rabid base, they persist in digging their own grave on health care, apparently unmoved by the ground shaking around them.
Now, instead of having to play defense and make excuses for their failure to deliver on a repeal of Obamacare, Republicans can go on offense and scare the daylights out of the 180 million or so Americans who would have their private health care insurance confiscated by a Democratic president and Congress.
There is one more possibility why these presidential candidates would trade their treasure for fool’s gold (and also help explain why, for example, a presidential candidate, Cory Booker, would walk unauthorized immigrants across the border). They could be so afflicted with Trump Derangement Syndrome, and the resulting inability to process rational thought, that they have somehow convinced themselves, in defiance of all available data, that their best strategy is to ignore what led them to victory just a few months ago and simply foist a hard-left solution to a deeply personal issue upon the wary American people.
Good luck with that.