The revolution is canceled. Or postponed. Whatever.
Notice that the sum of those who want to keep the law as-is or even expand it is greater than the sum who want to scale it back or get rid of it altogether. Must be Democrats driving that, no? Well, yes — but they’re being helped along by a sudden spell of cold feet among Republicans. Note the shift in just one month, before and after the election:
Lotta movement there on the right from “repeal the damn thing” to “let’s go slowly.” What explains it? Could be that some of it is just normal fluctuation in public opinion. Click and scroll down to Figure 3 and you’ll see that the favorable/unfavorable numbers for ObamaCare have bounced around a lot over the past six years. The law’s unfavorable rating is almost always the higher of the two, but the gap has varied widely over time — and it’s complicated by the fact, as noted above, that some liberals also view the law unfavorably because it’s not expansive enough for their tastes. Maybe the shift among Republicans is just part of the traditional statistical noise. Or maybe it’s a reaction to what Trump said after his Oval Office meeting with Obama a few weeks ago. Remember that? He spent 90 minutes or so with O and suddenly started wondering aloud if maybe amending the law might be a better idea than replacing it wholesale. Some Republican voters might have read about that and concluded that if Trump thinks scaling back the program would work better than scrapping it, he must have his reasons.
I do think there’s a cold-feet element to this, though. It seems too coincidental that we’d see a shift this dramatic on the right surrounding a presidential election. The numbers here reminded me of the shift in opinion on abortion after Obama was elected to his first term. Note the bounce in pro-life identification between 2008 and 2009:
Year after year during the Bush administration, more Americans identified as pro-choice than pro-life. Then, overnight in 2009, the numbers flipped. How come? My guess is that some fencesitters on the issue, who either don’t feel strongly about it or are conflicted by the merits of the arguments on both sides, were reacting to their worries that the new pro-abortion president would go too far in liberalizing the practice. Anticipating Obama’s radicalism on the issue, they reacted by tilting the other way. You may be seeing something like that in the O-Care numbers. Year after year, Republican voters could shout “REPEAL AND REPLACE” and not have to think through the consequences of that since everyone understood it wasn’t going to happen. Now it is going to happen — the health insurance industry is going to be torn up again, root and branch, for the second time in six years. New rules, new bureaucracy, tons of upheaval for consumers, and the man in charge of it all is, er, Trump, who’s already seen by many voters as impetuous. Go figure that some Republicans would move from demanding insta-repeal to a more cautious “scale back” plan.
And don’t forget either that parts of the law are popular, even on the right. Click and scroll down to Table 2. Of 10 different elements of ObamaCare listed, Republicans support eight of them at 63 percent or better; the only two measures that fail to draw a majority of GOPers are the employer mandate and the individual mandate. (Never mind that the individual mandate is the means of paying for all of the goodies in the law that Americans do like. Voters want this lunch to be free, as usual.) The sudden and unexpected reality on November 9th that the reaper is coming for ObamaCare undoubtedly forced some people to consider for the first time in a real way that the stuff in the law that they support — guaranteed coverage for people with preexisting conditions, the right of young adults to use their parents’ insurance up to age 26 — might be on the chopping block. That was destined to move even some Republicans from the “repeal” to the “scale back” column.
There’s no sense dwelling too much on a poll, though, especially one that tells Republicans something they don’t want to hear. After the polls missed Trump’s victory (even though they got the popular vote pretty much right), it’ll be years before unfavorable data of any kind is taken at face value. Besides, there’s no question that the GOP will repeal O-Care. They’ve spent too much political energy demanding that since 2010 to wobble now and opt for “amending” the law instead. Passing a repeal and then delaying it for three years would be a disaster for many reasons, though, starting with the fact that neither Trump nor his party are going to want to deal with the politics of installing a complex new insurance system in 2019-20, right in the thick of the next presidential campaign. “Repeal and delay” is destined to end up with the GOP either extending the delay further or reversing course and eventually preserving ObamaCare in some form, which will anger and demoralize Republicans. Trump just put Tom Price at HHS for a reason, because he has a vision for how a post-ObamaCare system should look. What are they waiting for?