Report: Kevin McCarthy warns Trump that new court push to overturn ObamaCare is a terrible idea

He’s right. It’s genuinely baffling. If you’re tempted to scream “cuck” at him, think it through.

McCarthy told Trump over the phone that the decision made no sense — especially after Democrats killed Republicans in the midterms in part over the issue of pre-existing conditions, according to two sources familiar with their recent conversation. As Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur points out — health care was the top issue for 2018 midterm voters, and voters who cared most about health care favored Democrats over Republicans by more than 50 percentage points…

Multiple GOP sources — from the most conservative to the most moderate wing of the party — have told Axios that they can’t fathom why the president would want to re-litigate an issue that has been a clear loser for Republicans. And especially during a week in which Trump is doing a victory lap after Attorney General Bill Barr announced that special counsel Robert Mueller did not find sufficient evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.

“Don’t blame Trump,” you might say. “It’s the DOJ that’s leading the charge to get O-Care struck down in court. Blame Bill Barr.” That’s a nice try — but according to Politico, Barr thinks it’s a terrible idea too. So does Alex Azar, the head of HHS. So does Trump’s legal right-hand man, White House counsel Pat Cipollone. As a matter of law, the grounds for the suit are shaky: Several states want the courts to rule that because John Roberts upheld ObamaCare in 2012 on grounds that the mandate penalty was a lawful tax, Congress’s decision later to reduce the “tax” to zero means that there’s no longer anything holding O-Care up legally. The “tax” is gone so the entire constitutional basis for the law is gone too.

But there are all sorts of problems with that, notes Philip Klein. Who’s been harmed by the end of the penalty such that they now have legal standing to sue? How can a mandate penalty that isn’t onerous make ObamaCare unconstitutional when a penalty that was onerous didn’t? Didn’t Congress itself essentially declare that O-Care can operate lawfully without a mandate when it reduced the penalty to zero but kept the rest of the law intact? If so, then presumably a court could strike down the mandate but uphold the rest of the law. As a matter of basic judicial politics, how likely is it that John Roberts and the four liberals are going to scrap ObamaCare seven years later on grounds as flimsy as this? They let Democrats remake the U.S. health-insurance industry, only to blow it up now because of some tortured argument involving reducing the mandate penalty to zero?

It’s goofy for Trump to hype the end of ObamaCare when the odds of victory, on these grounds at least, are so slim. But it’s even goofier for him to hope for victory under the political circumstances. The GOP’s preparing to run next year as the party of the status quo and stability, the one that’s protecting America from the utopian designs of wild-eyed radicals. Do you want to let Bernie Sanders completely destroy the insurance industry and replace it with an unaffordable, untested Medicare for All plan? Or do you want to stick with Trump and work on making more cautious adjustments to improve health care? That’s the argument McCarthy and pretty much everyone else in the party wants to make in 2020…

…except Trump, who’s suddenly gung ho to destroy the health-care status quo himself. That would be sort of forgivable if Republicans had an off-the-shelf insurance reform plan that they could offer to voters to counter Medicare for All, but they don’t. We spent the first year of Trump’s presidency, in fact, being reminded of how thin the GOP’s policy program is on health care. What Trump’s angling to do here, in other words, is (1) create a gigantic political vacuum on a core campaign issue that only Democrats are primed to fill; (2) risk a nasty backlash when millions of people with ObamaCare exchange insurance suddenly lose coverage if SCOTUS strikes down the law; and (3) have to scramble to produce a stopgap measure that can pass Congress knowing that Nancy Pelosi has veto power over anything the GOP might offer. And she’d exercise that veto over literally anything the GOP might offer, too: Pelosi knows that it’s to her party’s great advantage to have this issue unresolved in 2020. The last thing she’d do is make a deal with Trump on a reform bill after ObamaCare is gone to bail him out of a political jam.

If you doubt which side is likely to benefit electorally from this, check Quinnipiac’s poll from yesterday. The good news is that support for Medicare for All has dropped a bit in the past 18 months, from 51/38 in August 2017 to 43/45 now, probably as a result of more voters realizing that MfA would mean the end of private insurance altogether. But don’t celebrate yet:

Majority support for the so-called “public option,” with even a plurality of Republicans in favor. Conservatives fought the public option tooth and nail in 2009, recognizing it as a trojan horse for single-payer: Because the government doesn’t need to turn a profit, any plan it offers can undercut private insurers and gradually attract many more consumers than private competitors can. The more popular the public option becomes, the stronger the left’s argument will be that we should “give the people what they want” by eliminating private insurance altogether and moving to mandatory Medicare for All. I suspect, in fact, that the Democratic nominee next year will run more heavily on the public option than he/she will on single-payer, knowing that the former will lead to the latter. What will Trump counter with?

If ObamaCare is still intact, he can counter with the status quo and a promise to work with Dems in his second term on mutually agreeable reforms. If ObamaCare isn’t intact — then what?

A Republican pollster told the Daily Beast that, by his estimates, uncertainty around health care cost the GOP at least a dozen House seats in last year’s midterm. The more the public worries about coverage for preexisting conditions disappearing, they more they run to the safety of Democratic big government. Now here’s Trump trying to force voters to revisit those fears. All I can think when mulling why he’d choose to do this is that he sees repeal and replace as a campaign promise unfulfilled and he’s going to try to keep it even if it means wrecking his own chances for reelection. Probably too it plays into whatever weird obsession he has with John McCain, viewing the end of ObamaCare in court as the final revenge on Maverick (and Obama) after McCain thwarted the GOP effort to repeal the law in 2017. He may not care or even understand how difficult it’ll be for Republicans to put together a health-care plan on the fly if O-Care suddenly disappears, so he’s moving full speed ahead on something that’ll please his base (yet again) despite the tremendous risk it holds for him and his party. Bananas.

Here’s Susan Collins, facing a tough-ish reelection bid in Maine next year that’s about to get much tougher if this happens.