Ten Miles Square


February 03, 2012 8:00 AM Health Care Was Never Going to Save the GOP

By Jonathan Bernstein

Following this morning’s excellent jobs numbers, conservative Philip Klein tweeted:

With economics improving, good thing GOP will nominate a candidate who can run a credible campaign against unpopular Obamacare. Oh, wait..

Here’s what’s wrong with that…well, actually, beyond the inconvenient fact that many Republicans who have been in public office since before 2009 have supported major sections of ACA, including the individual mandate – it’s not just a Mitt Romney problem.

But what’s really wrong with Klein’s point is that he misunderstands the relationship between the economy, approval of Barack Obama, and the popularity of Obama’s initiatives. The real “Oh, wait…” here isn’t that Mitt Romney is unusually poorly positioned to take on Obama on health care. It’s that if the unemployment rate continues to drop, Obama’s approval ratings will rise, and if Obama’s approval ratings rise, “Obamacare” is going to be more popular.

Of course, Republicans pushed this even farther by personalizing the issue: one would have to guess that “Obamacare” is even more dependent on what one thinks about Barack Obama than “ACA” or a generic “health care plan” would be. But really, this isn’t something that Republicans have much control over. If it turns out that the economy is really getting healthy – and don’t forget, a few months of better jobs numbers is no guarantee at all of how things will look by mid-summer – then about the only thing the outparty can do is to find an Eisenhower, and unfortunately for the GOP those are in very short supply. That’s why if you want to know who will win in November, you can mostly ignore the primaries and caucuses – watch the economic numbers, the Fed policy, and the progress of the payroll tax cut and UI extender bill through Congress this month. But it’s not just that; those are also the indicators you should watch if you want to know how popular ACA will be in the fall. Overall, I think Jonathan Chait has it about right: economic pessimism is probably Mitt Romney’s best bet, and either it will pan out or it won’t.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.


  • sloan on February 04, 2012 11:08 AM:

    Totally agree that campaigning against ACA is delusional. What conservatives fail to understand is that much of the disapproval comes from people who would like it to be even more expansive, and those who want it repealed are in the minority.

  • June on February 04, 2012 5:11 PM:

    The further delusion amongst conservatives is that the ACA is unpopular based on its own merits and not based on the massive disinformation campaign the US Chamber of Commerce, American Crossroads, the Koch Bros., and Limbaugh and his mini-me's waged against it.

    They really think that the parents of the 2.5 million young people who are currently covered by insurance thanks to the ACA will cheer the GOP's determination to repeal the ACA. The fact that Republicans want to throw people off their health insurance (while congressional Republicans continue to enjoy their good coverage on our dime), should tell anyone with a brain that the GOP is a very twisted entity. Yes, that leaves out those who vote Republican, but they are in the minority. That's why the rest of us have to make sure we get out and vote Democratic.

  • Texas Aggie on February 05, 2012 12:33 AM:

    The main reason that campaigning against "Obamacare" by the republicans won't do well is the same reason that Gov. Goodhair didn't do well in the primaries. If the repubs would just leave well enough alone, then maybe they can get low information people (Fox TV viewers among many others) to get all worked up about it. But if they bring it up front and center, then people will find out what it really is. The repubs don't want that to happen and they know it. That was the only reason that they fought Clinton's bill so hard without making any attempt at compromise. They knew that it would be wildly popular once people learned about it.

    So like Goodhair went from being viewed as a savior to being viewed as a babbling fool once people found out about him, so the perception of "Obamacare" will change from being the scourge of our nation to being the American savior if people find out what it really is.