Friday, February 3, 2012

Health Care Was Never Going to Save the GOP

Following this morning’s excellent jobs numbers, conservative Philip Klein tweeted:
With economic #s 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.


  1. Yeah, pretty much...especially the point about finding an Eisenhower. Notice that Petraeus stands about as much of a chance of getting the GOP nomination as Huntsman did?

    It's hard to tell how much is right-wing "pull" and how much is Obama "push", but I wonder to what extent the GOP move to the right is driven by the fact that Obama very quietly took over the middle and co-opted most of the remaining Republican "moderate" leaders (e.g., Huntsman, Petraeus, Specter, LaHood, McHugh, etc.)?

  2. That's an interesting point, massappeal, and I might point out that you forgot his first SecDef, Gates. People who are driven to find solutions to problems instead of preaching about right and wrong aren't as picky about where their solutions come from as they are about their effectiveness.

    I think that Nate Silver nailed the question about electoral predictions today. Now I don't have to read any of you guys again until November!

  3. I wish this would prompt news organizations to, at least at the margin, devote more extensive and innovative coverage to actual consequential issues like (1) the politics and economics of the eurozone crisis and European recession, (2) the diplomacy of the Iran-Israel-nuclear issue, and (3) the local economic conditions in key up-for-grabs parts of likely swing states.

    Insightful reporting regarding all those stories would constitute better, more helpful reporting on the probable unfolding of the upcoming US presidential election than has the mountain of pseudo-journalism produced for the consumption of 'political junkies.'

    1. Yep. You could take every single word ever published in the Politico and it would still have less relevance to the outcome of the 2012 election as one single well-sourced report on Israel's intention's vis-a-vis Iran.

      Which, by the way, worries me. Who doesn't think Netanyahu would be willing to bomb Iran - even if it does nothing to halt their nuclear program - just to throw the world economy into turmoil and block Obama's re-election?

  4. I have been reading your blog for a while now, and i find it very informative. However, I have one question, and I don't mean for this to sound snarky, but does anything besides the economy actually matter in elections? Could George McGovern or Walter Mondale have won if the economy was bad during their campaigns? It seems like both of those candidates lost by a lot, and not for reasons linked to the state of the economy. I realize that this is a very hypothetical question, but honestly, what besides the economy is important in elections?

    1. No, that's a fair question. There's evidence that ideological extremism hurts, with McGovern and Goldwater probably costing about 3 points, give or take, vs. a mainstream candidate. There was evidence that Palin hurt, but usually VPs don't matter.

      And then there are lots and lots of things that can matter around the margins, a point or two or less. In a close race that might matter a lot; otherwise, not really.

    2. Oh -- forgot a big one: war. Unpopular wars hurt the incumbent party (1952, 1968, perhaps 2004 and 2008). And then generally when the incumbent is on the ballot anything that makes them popular or unpopular can matter, and that's not confined to just the economy and war.

  5. There are still 24-Million jobless people so it will take 100 years to create 20 million additional manufacturing jobs. Home sales are the lowest since 1963 so maybe it will turn upwards... or not.
    No war = no deficit but the costly wars continue (just a costly 'Private' war in Iraq). Iran is in the list so the war-profiteers are making out good and should be creating jobs as the US does make weapons. It's not good for all because it takes a lot of tax-dollars to pay for the army of 'Private Contractors' that remain in Iraq and Afghanistan. Add the cost of NATO's bill for that coup in Libya because US is picking up most of the tab (>80%) and we'll be buying more bombs since Obama has increased the drone wars exponentially (at least six to date). As for the cost of Liberty in America, that's priceless. The sad truth is, the State of the Union is a fascist mess so don't expect the economy to improve, for real anyway! Oh, I'm not suggesting Newt or Mitt can't make it any worse, but the same goes for Obama who isn't going to make it any better. Buck up and wake up America... we need more than just another president!~


  6. I think you are saying, as you have shared before, that the reaction to the ACA is as much about other things as the ACA itself. However I would think that in a sense that's always the case, no? I mean the swift-boat stuff wasn't so much about Kerry's war record but about his character.

    As for your general point about the economy, isn't it the case that it depends... In other words, if the economy is fairly stable and doing okay, then other variables may matter. It looks now like it matters a lot because of the recession and the lack of recovery. However on the flip side, wasn't the economy in reasonably good shape when Gore ran in 2000? He was not the incumbent, but close. In other words, job approval matters if its the president. And favorability/unfavorability if not. And there are many variables that go into that number -- the economy especially relative to where it was when the president took over. But if its as good as when he took over or better and things are reasonably good (not the case now), then isn't that much less of a variable? Thanks.


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