If Cruz and Rubio are looking for some eleventh-hour ad material to galvanize righties before tomorrow’s big vote, they can’t do better than this. Somehow, after six years of conservative agitation against the mandate and a 5-4 Supreme Court majority finding it unconstitutional as an exercise of Congress’s commerce (but not taxi!) power, it seems likely we’re going to end up with two consecutive Republican presidential nominees who are pro-mandate. Romney at least wanted to leave the mandate-making to the states; Trump, an authoritarian with no apparent philosophical interest in federalism, probably won’t be as deferential. The silver lining, though, in nominating Trump as his affronts to conservative orthodoxy pile up (“Bush lied!”) is that we’ll get to finally see in the general election just what sort of real electoral muscle the conservative movement has. In theory, if the GOP electorate is as conservative as people claim, Trump saying something like this should detonate his potential support among a solid third of the party. No major-party nominee can win a general election after bleeding that much support on his own side. In practice, I’d be very, very surprised if the numbers of Republicans staying home in a Trump/Hillary race greatly exceeded the numbers who stayed home for Romney or McCain. It’d be a different group that failed to show this year than failed to show in previous cycles, but in terms of raw numbers? Partisan tribalism will deliver most Republicans to Trump no matter how many supposed “core” beliefs he tramples on. That’s why, whatever Trump’s critics might tell you right now, he really does stand a decent chance of beating Hillary.
The bit about the mandate isn’t even the most interesting part. That distinction goes to Trump suggesting, repeatedly, that the only alternative is letting people die in the streets. I’m tempted to call that Obama-esque — “my opponents are not just wrong but morally depraved” — but O tends to reserve that form of argument for foreign policy and gun-control lectures. The guy on the left whom Trump sounds like here is actually Alan Grayson, the most notorious progressive troll in Congress, who stood up on the House floor in 2009 and said, “If you get sick, America, the Republican health care plan is this: Die quickly.” Trump couldn’t have said it better himself. We’re maybe 10 days away from making this guy the prohibitive favorite for the Republican nomination.