Health care will most likely not be the defining issue for race for president. But ignoring the issue could be a catastrophic mistake for Republicans interested in retaking the House and keeping the Senate.
Any campaign for the White House rarely comes down to one single issue. Voters decide who they will support based on an array of factors, ranging from their general views of the economy to their own personal well-being, from concerns about character to a sense of class identification.
But the race for a congressional or Senate seat can turn on how voters feel about a particular issue. And health care has been a potent one over the years.
In 2010, opposition to ObamaCare galvanized Republicans to take back the House. In 2018, Democrats took back the House in no small part because they focused on health care, while the GOP talked about anything else.
Two years ago, Democrats spent a huge percentage of their political advertising talking about their plans to rein in health care costs, up to 40 to 50 percent in some districts.
Republicans, on the other hand, chose to focus on immigration, the benefits of the tax law and the growing economy. They spent almost no campaign money talking about Democratic plans to end private health insurance in favor of a “Medicare for All” scheme.
That was a huge missed opportunity for the Republicans to define the Democrats as extremists who were more interested in growing the size of government and less interested in creating a better, high quality health care system for the American people.
Even among the majority of Democratic voters, getting rid of private health insurance is very unpopular.
You can trace the decline and fall of Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden most trusted among Democratic primary voters on foreign relations: poll Warren: Sanders said a woman could not win the White House Conservatives slam Warren’s call to put transgender women in women’s prisons MORE’s (D-Mass.) presidential campaign with the unveiling of the details of her “Medicare for All” plan, which was roundly lambasted by experts and pundits alike for its high price tag ($23 trillion) and for its promise to replace private health insurance with a government-run plan.
Poll after poll shows that while the American people, by and large, believe that there is a health care crisis, they also are mostly very satisfied with their own health insurance.
In other words, they are fine with reform as long as it doesn’t impact their own plans.
That’s why former President Obama made the false promise that “if you like your health care insurance, you can keep it.”
Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden most trusted among Democratic primary voters on foreign relations: poll Warren: Sanders said a woman could not win the White House Hill.TV’s Saagar Enjeti warns Biden’s Iraq record could be general election issue MORE (I-Vt.) has run a very smart campaign that is devoid of many details about his actual plan but full of personal health care horror stories.
Indeed, as The Washington Post reported last week, “As Sanders has toured Iowa this week, he has engaged in at times raw question-and-answer exchanges on health care that have shown how that issue galvanizes his core voters.” Those galvanized supporters might just propel Sanders to wins in Iowa and New Hampshire.
President TrumpDonald John Trump Democratic challenger on Van Drew’s party switch: ‘He betrayed our community’ Rand Paul pledges to force Hunter Biden vote if GOP backs Dem impeachment witnesses Trump plans to divert .2 billion from Pentagon for border wall construction: report MORE has a better political antenna than most Republicans. He understands the power of health care as an issue. That’s why he was so disappointed in the Republican failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act and why he has been so insistent on pushing a drug-pricing plan that has proved unpopular with many congressional Republicans.
Republicans and the president must learn from the mistakes of the last election. The president probably won’t lose over that single issue, but his hopes of having Republicans retake the House will be improved if he and the GOP get on the same page. They can’t ignore health care, and they are better off going on offense and defining the debate on their terms rather than hoping the whole topic just goes away. Because it won’t.
Feehery is a partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker Dennis HastertJohn (Dennis) Dennis HastertFeehery: Trump is holding all the cards this November Feehery: Losing faith in the people and the Constitution John Feehery: Censure could give Democrats a way out of no-win impeachment MORE (R-Ill.), as communications director to former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as a speechwriter to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).