Pundits are touting the non-upset in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, where a Democrat won in a state that voted for Hillary Clinton, as the big story of Election Day 2017. However, the most important result on Tuesday was Maine’s vote to expand Medicaid under Obamacare — the first time voters have directly approved that policy.
The decision on Question 2 was a staggering 59-41 landslide in favor of an entitlement that is widely considered to be failing.
Couple that with the fact that Virginia voters said that health care was, by far, the most important issue in the 2017 election, and the conclusion is clear. Americans today prefer the insurance they don’t have under Obamacare to the insurance they might have under the Republican plan.
Whether that is because people are hooked on the illusion of “free stuff,” or because Republicans have failed to unite around, and sell, an alternative, it is the political reality.
The political danger to the GOP is twofold. Trump supporters see the Virginia result as proof the party must deliver on its promise to repeal Obamacare, or it will fail to mobilize its base. Moderates, looking at Virginia and Maine, are convinced that repealing Obamacare will cost them their seats. Republicans will be more disunited than ever.
Democrats, meanwhile, still see Obama’s re-election in 2012 as a mandate to keep Obamacare. They may be right.
For Trump and the Republicans, there is only one way out of this dilemma. It is to fix Obamacare — after repealing the individual mandate, the least popular and most constitutionally troubled part of the law.
Trump is hinting at an executive order to stop the IRS from collecting the penalty — excuse me, “tax” — but that is likely unconstitutional for the same reason Obama’s “prosecutorial discretion” on DACA was unconstitutional. It is a negotiation tactic.
The task must fall to Congress, with some prodding from Trump. Yes, the Senate rejected “skinny repeal” earlier this year. But both houses might be more inclined to end the individual mandate if that were part of a tax reform bill. (That effort, too, is stumbling, but is still likely to pass eventually, in some attenuated form.)
Once the mandate is out of the way, Republicans would have more flexibility to accept bipartisan “fixes,” and revisit new solutions.
In 2009, Obama’s party lost in both New Jersey and Virginia, as Republicans did Tuesday. Democrats failed to heed the voters’ demands, and collapsed dramatically in 2010. Republicans have a chance to learn from that mistake.
In that respect, Tuesday’s results — particularly in Maine — are an important wake-up call. Trump and the GOP can only recover if they fix Obamacare, while somehow fulfilling their pledge to end it.
Difficult, but not impossible.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.