The secret to surviving, The Gambler told Kenny Rogers, is to “know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.”
It’s time for her fellow Democrats to run like hell from Obamacare, says pollster Celinda Lake.
“In terms of Obamacare, don’t defend it, say it was flawed from the beginning and we’re going to fix it,” Ms. Lake said at a poll briefing hosted by the Christian Science Monitor March 25.
That was essentially the strategy followed by Alex Sink in the special election for a House seat in Florida March 11. Ms. Sink had carried the district in her losing campaign for governor in 2010 and wasn’t burdened with having voted to impose Obamacare.
But she lost to an underfunded Republican nobody had heard of in a district that President Barack Obama carried in 2012, despite the presence in the race of a Libertarian who took nearly 5 percent of the vote.
The problem with this strategy is that it’s just a “messaging” strategy. Americans are very, very upset about Obamacare, Ms. Lake’s poll indicates. Democrats must say something to mollify them. They don’t have to mean what they say.
The Obamacare rollout was a “disaster;” the president “failed us,” Ms. Sink told voters. There must be changes in the law, she said, but was vague about what they might be. She criticized Republican David Jolly for advocating repeal. “We cannot go back to where we were before,” she said.
That should have worked, according to Ms. Lake’s polls, and others. They indicate a plurality of Americans want Obamacare fixed but not repealed.
It didn’t, I think because enough voters sensed Ms. Sink was just saying what she thought they wanted to hear. “Alex Sink didn’t propose a single fix,” said Daniel Henninger of The Wall Street Journal. “Nor has any Democrat anywhere really proposed a serious fix, other than delaying the mandates and so forth, which isn’t really a solution.”
The best that can be said for Ms. Lake’s strategy is that Democrats in swing states and districts who follow it aren’t likely to lose as badly as they would if they proudly embrace Obamacare, as House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi recommends, or if they attack the seriously ill victims of Obamacare, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has done.
Ms. Lake’s strategy would work better if, instead of a gambit, it were a sincere admission of error.
It’s clear, now, that every promise Democrats made about Obamacare was false. You can’t always keep your doctor if you want to. Health insurance premiums for many people have gone way up, not down. So has government spending on health care. Many of the uninsured don’t like Obamacare and don’t plan to buy it.
And it’s clear, too, that this administration couldn’t organize a two-car funeral.
The assumption Democrats made that, once implemented, Obamacare would be popular ranks up there with Custer’s assumption there were only a few Indians at the Little Big Horn. In an AP/GFK poll March 28 in which 30 percent of respondents were Democrats, Obamacare drew support from just 26 percent.
Soon, Democrats may look back wistfully on that poll as a high water mark. When they wrote the Obamacare law, they front-loaded what they thought were the goodies and postponed the pain. So they should know better than anyone what’s coming down the pike.
I understand why, despite this, President Obama won’t let go of his “signature legislative achievement.”
But, if Democrats had believed the promises they made to get Obamacare passed, why won’t they admit they made a terrible mistake and try sincerely to make amends?
If it’s party loyalty that keeps them out of the lifeboats, it’s been a one-way street. Mr. Obama never did much for other Democrats when he was popular. Now, for those who must run for office this year, he’s a pair of cement overshoes:
• President Obama got 63 percent of the vote in San Diego in 2012. A heavily outspent Republican won the mayoral election there by 10 percentage points Feb. 11.
• In a special election for the Virginia legislature Feb. 25 in a district Barack Obama won by 10 percentage points in 2012, the Republican got 60 percent of the vote.
• On March 11, Ms. Sink sank in Florida’s District 13.
• Last week in a special election for a state Senate seat in California, Democrats mustered barely half the vote Mr. Obama had won in 2012.
Obamacare signups may have exceeded the first registration goal last week, a tsunami is building. You don’t have to look very far out to sea to notice it. But Democrats still huddle on the beach. Why?
Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1476).