November 14, 2013

Barack Obama’s long press conference, mostly focused on Affordable Care Act troubles, isn’t exactly getting rave reviews as much as it is giving people an opportunity to speculate on which sound bites will sound great in GOP attack ads. Over on Twitter, pundits have compared it to the first Obama/Romney debate from last fall.

Which Sean Trende had the right response for:

My twitter feed hasn’t been like this since just after the first debate in ’12. Hmmm…what happened after that?

The big difference is that millions of people watched the debate, and some of them really were undecided voters. Hardly anyone watched a midday presidential news conference. And there’s no upcoming election, anyway. Which doesn’t mean that the president’s popularity doesn’t matter — it does — but only that very short-term surges and falls matter even less now than they did during the campaign.

And as hard as it seems to believe today, what Joshua Tucker said earlier is exactly right: The press frenzy over this is going to fade, just as frenzies over Syria, or the shutdown, or other events faded.

The ACA, unlike some of those issues, will still be around, and it may continue to generate plenty of news. So what really matters is whether all of the negative attention winds up helping the program in the long run — for example, by keeping fixes at the top of the president’s agenda — or hurts it (as it would if some of those fixes actually make things worse).

The same story still applies: What matters for the Affordable Care Act is getting the program to work smoothly. And the electoral effect of that, either pro or con, may turn out to be far smaller than people expect — as substantively important as health-care reform is, it’s not clear at all that it will move votes in 2014 or 2016, whether it’s a success or a failure. Either way, press conference performance is interesting as theater, but it’s not likely to make much of a difference to much of anything.