In explaining why the 2012 presidential race is not playing out according to the GOP’s expected script, Paul Krugman makes an important point:about the unexpectedly ideological nature of this election, and why that’s backfiring on Republicans:
How did that happen? Partly it’s because this has become such an ideological election — much more so than 2008. The GOP has made it clear that it has a very different vision of what America should be than that of Democrats, and Democrats have rallied around their cause. Among other things, while we weren’t looking, social issues became a source of Democratic strength, not weakness — partly because the country has changed, partly because the Democrats have finally worked up the nerve to stand squarely for things like reproductive rights.
And let me add a speculation: I suspect that in the end Obamacare is turning out to be a big plus, even though it has always had ambivalent polling. The fact is that Obama can point to a big achievement that will survive if he is reelected, perish if he isn’t; health insurance for 50 million or so Americans (30 million from the ACA, another 20 who would lose coverage if Romney/Ryan Medicaid cuts happen) is enough to cure people of the notion that it doesn’t matter who wins.
These points are related to each other. One reason Obamacare may not be turning out to be quite the negative for Obama that many expected is precisely because the election has become so ideologically charged. My bet is that the selection of Paul Ryan, by spotlighting his highly controversial and ideologically charged plan to transform Medicare’s core mission over time, might be lessening Obamacare as a liability for the President.
Thanks to Ryan’s Medicare plan, Medicare may well be eclipsing Obamacare — which was supposed to be one of Obama’s leading liabilities — as an issue. Today’s new Post poll finds that Ryan’s scheme is overwhelmingly opposed in Ohio, Florida, and Virginia. The poll finds that this opposition is powering a 19, 15, and 13 point advantage for Obama in these states on who is more trusted to handle Medicare. Republicans won a huge victory in the 2010 elections, largely because of Obamacare, by claiming (falsely) that the health law cut Medicare benefits for seniors. The GOP ticket reprised that attack this year. But by introducing Ryancare into the mix in such a high profile way, Republicans handed Obama the advantage on Medicare overall, making it easier for him to rebut this attack line than it was for Dems in 2010. As the Post polling team concludes in its analysis of the data, the “focus on Medicare as an issue also blunts potential fallout from Obama’s 2010 health-care reform law.”
The Ryan plan’s success in making the overall health care debate so ideologically charged may be making it at least somewhat easier for Dems to defend Obamacare. It has allowed them to portray he Republican goal — repeal Obamacare completely, taking health coverage away from millions of Americans, and replacing it with nothing — as even more extreme, by arguing that this is part of a larger ideological crusade to dramatically scale back the federal government’s role in maintaining the safety net. This goal is way out of step with the mainstream. But as Kevin Drum notes, Republicans persuaded themselves that Paul Ryan somehow had the hypnotic power to “convince voters to do away with program benefits they’ve loved and supported for decades.” As it turns out, the opposite is happening. The centrality of the Ryan agenda in the race is reminding voters how much they do love and support them.