Another big change since 2010: ObamaCare. The passage of the the president’s Affordable Care Act — opposed by older, tea party Republicans — has affected how GOP politicians view and talk about the safety net. They now clearly differentiate between “earned” entitlement benefits such as Medicare and Social Security and “unearned” welfare benefits such as ObamaCare subsidies, Medicaid, and food stamps. As Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins accurately predicted back in 2013, “The new ‘conservative’ position will be to defend Social Security and Medicare, those middle-class rewards for a life of hard work and tax-paying, against Mr. Obama’s vast expansion of the means-tested welfare state for working-age Americans.” Republican voters get the “good” entitlements, Democratic voters the “bad,” dependency-creating ones.
Huckabee clearly intends seniors to be the rock upon which he builds his candidacy. In the “Seniors” section of his campaign website, he promises to fight for the “earned benefits” of Social Security and Medicare — perhaps forgetting that a typical middle-class, one-earner couple retiring in 2030 will receive $1.3 million in lifetime Medicare and Social Security benefits, having paid in just under $500,000. Huckabee then attacks ObamaCare as a welfare program that diverts $700 billion from Medicare and fosters “government dependency.” Entitlements for me and mine but not for thee and thine.
The politics of this strategy are debatable. (Though it surely doesn’t help attract younger voters!) But regardless, it makes for simply awful public policy.