Over the weekend, conservative intellectuals jumped into the breach. Both National Review and the Weekly Standard had been cool toward the “defund” effort, but both published columns defending the GOP’s ransom campaign. “Petitioning Congress to repeal a bad law through formal procedures is not the kind of behavior educated people normally associate with anarchism,” wrote Jonah Goldberg in National Review. “The Fugitive Slave Act was once the law of the land. So was the Defense of Marriage Act.”
Jay Cost, author of the Weekly Standard’s pre-election page-turner “Why Romney is Likely to Win,” attempted to debunk the Democrats with data. “The notion that Obama’s reelection in 2012 was a plebiscite on the relative merits of Obamacare is wishful thinking,” wrote Cost. “Barack Obama hardly uttered a word about Obamacare, and ditto Mitt Romney, who presumably was afraid of Obama’s rejoinder that the law was based on what Romney did as governor of Massachusetts.”
Really? Anyone who endured a few Romney or Obama stump speeches heard plenty of references to Obamacare. The day before the election, at his final campaign stop in Ohio, the president said, “I said we’d pass health care reform—we passed it,” and promised that he’d reject any legislation that might “let insurance companies discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, or eliminate health care for millions on Medicaid who are poor or elderly or disabled.”
The president, presumably, was aware that swing voters might hear this. Most of them voted for him anyway. Those who didn’t might have been convinced by Mitt Romney, elsewhere in Ohio, saying that “the status quo path says that we’re going to have Obamacare, that we’re going to have bureaucrats telling you what kind of health care you can have,” then promising “we’re going to get government out of it and restore the freedom that you’ve always had in choosing your health care choice.”
A bored person with access to Google can find hundreds more quotes like that, but why bother? Cost and DeMint argued that the election wasn’t just about Obamacare, and it wasn’t. What’s more important, according to Cost, is that “the exit polls showed a plurality of voters opposing the president’s health care law.” True: According to the exit poll, 49 percent of voters wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and 44 percent wanted to keep it. When the pollsters dug further, 26 percent wanted the law “expanded” and 25 percent wanted it completely repealed. It’s a divisive law.
Just not as divisive as it used to be. The 2010 exit poll found that 48 percent of voters wanted Obamacare repealed, and 31 percent wanted it expanded. The electorate that re-elected Obama, less white and more liberal, was readier to keep the law.
That’s why the GOP is talking so much about 2014. When the House passed the doomed continuing resolution that defunded Obamacare, Majority Leader Eric Cantor made an extraordinary speech naming Senate Democrats from red states who’d have to take a tough vote. Those Democrats, from Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina, ended up voting to restore Obamacare funding. Republicans have responded by repeating their names again. “You go to Louisiana, you got to Alaska, you got to these states that are overly opposing it, where these senators have some very difficult races,” said Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy on Sunday. “I think they're going to have to be pressuring their leaders to say, let us have that vote.”
They’re not. “The Affordable Care has been passed by Congress, upheld by the Supreme Court,” said Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu last week, after voting to restore the funds. “We need to get working, implementing it, so that every mother, every father, every small business, every small child can have access to quality health care.”
But the point isn’t really that Landrieu or another Democrat will buckle now. The point is that 2014 gives Republicans a more favorable map, with Senate races in states that went more heavily for Romney than the rest of the country. Finally, by ejecting some Democrats in lower-turnout elections, the Senate might get “closer to the people.”