President Donald Trump claimed before Christmas that he had “essentially repealed” Obamacare by signing the tax bill, which eliminated the individual mandate to buy health insurance.
That will certainly help some Americans — as will his October executive order expanding access to some kinds of insurance plans. But Obamacare is still in place, along with its soaring prices and deductibles. And Democrats stand to reap the political benefit in November.
That is not just because Republicans have disappointed their base by failing to repeal Obamacare “root and branch.” It is also because the country is in the middle of a health insurance crisis. Consumers are struggling to afford basic health coverage; medical costs keep rising, despite former President Barack Obama’s promises and claims; and the insurance companies continue to pull out of states where Obamacare’s odd design has made coverage unprofitable.
Obamacare is failing. And while Trump predicted last year that voters would blame Democrats, opinion polls say otherwise. A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll conducted in December showed that voters preferred Democrats to Republicans on a “generic ballot” by 10 percent, 44% to 34%.
But the gap on health care was far wider, with 14 percent of voters preferring Democrats to Republicans, 45% to 31%. (The margin of error in the poll was 2%.)
It is not difficult to understand why voters feel this way. Democrats created Obamacare. But Democrats also have a solution to Obamacare that everyone knows, even if few Democrats will admit it yet: namely, government-run health care.
Party leaders are also hammering a talking point about Republicans failing to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). True or not, voters know that Democrats want to spend money to help them.
We have already seen the results. In November 2017, voters in Maine chose to expand Medicaid coverage under Obamacare by a staggering 59% to 41% margin. In the Alabama special election for U.S. Senate, Democrat Doug Jones spoke constantly about funding CHIP while his opponent was preoccupied with a sex scandal.
Health care is already the second-most important issue to voters, according to polls, and will take the lead as economic fears fade.
Republicans have no health care message — none. More talk about free market solutions to health insurance costs — such as tort reform, allowing people to buy insurance across state lines, and so on — does nothing to address the acute problem that households are facing as they attempt to balance their monthly budgets.
Worse, every time the Republicans have tried to pass a bill in Congress specifically addressing health care, they have failed, miserably.
Structurally, the Republicans still have an advantage in the 2018 midterms. They only have eight Senate seats up for re-election, as opposed to the Democrats’ 25. And the congressional district maps drawn after 2010 still favor the GOP, even if some incumbents face tough races in districts that voted for Hillary Clinton. Tax cuts will help, as will Trump’s other policy successes. And the radicalism of the left’s so-called “Resistance” will alienate some voters.
But all of those factors together may not outweigh health care as a deciding issue in the midterm elections. Voters, at least beyond the primary phase, are not interested in punishing failure as much as in finding solutions. Democrats are appealing to the electorate with the false promise of other people’s money.
Republicans have no alternative yet. Unless they can find a way to address the urgent needs of patients, they will lose Congress, and deservedly so.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named to Forward’s 50 “most influential” Jews in 2017. 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.