Ever notice that as Republicans try to unwind Obamacare, they keep prefacing their arguments with why Obamacare is so bad? In the case of President Trump, he often talks more about how bad Obamacare is than how good its replacement will be:
“Republican senators are working very hard to get something that’s going to be really, really good, the opposite of the big lie that was Obamacare,” Trump said in his weekly address Friday.
Well, there's a reason for that. Polling suggests that the Republicans' framing of the health-care bill as the only alternative to Obamacare is about the only way to make it tenable to their base.
Notice I said “to their base.” That's another huge problem for Republicans as they struggle to pass health-care legislation: It's not popular, even when compared with Obamacare.
A new Washington Post-ABC News polling shows that, by a 2-to-1 margin, Americans prefer Obamacare to the Republicans' plan:
Same with independents:
But when you frame this either-or question to Republicans, you get the opposite response:
Less than 60 percent of Republican voters preferring their own party's plan to Obamacare might seem low, given that Republicans have spent the past seven years campaigning on — and arguably winning on — repealing Obamacare. And it is.
But the data actually shows a much more enthusiastic expression of support for the Republicans' bill than when GOP voters are asked simply if they like it.
The Fix's Aaron Blake has documented how Republicans don't feel strongly about this health-care bill as it plods its way through Congress: A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that just 18 percent of Republicans strongly approved of it, while 11 percent disapproved strongly.
In other words, Republicans constantly need to remind their base why they're passing this legislation in the first place just to get them to like it more. And not even their base is that on board.
Which leaves Republicans with two not-great options:
1) They can pass a law everyone but their base dislikes.
2) They can oblige their base and be charged with undoing a health-care law that the rest of the nation prefers.
To get out of that Catch-22, Republicans have to convince the rest of the nation that Obamacare is as bad as they say it is and/or that their bill is actually the opposite of what voters think it is. Basically, they have to change almost everyone's minds about this legislation.
Trump is doing the front end (talking about how bad Obamacare is), but he's not helping to sell the rest of the legislation to boost its stand-alone popularity. In fact, the president is doing the opposite. He has given mixed support for the bill, calling the House's version “mean” and saying the Senate's version needs more heart.
Meanwhile, moderate GOP senators are basically acknowledging that Obamacare has helped to insure people in their state. Their sudden vocalization of that notion, plus estimates that upward of 22 million could lose their health insurance over the next decade under the Republicans' plan, could be contributing to Obamacare's rise in popularity as soon as Republicans make a serious attempt to repeal it.
“I've said repeatedly, I'm not going to drop you off a cliff,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) told CNN recently.
Republican operatives argue that it will be their party that drops off a cliff if they can't pass a health-care bill, as unpopular as it is. “A failure to address a conviction among the base of the Republican Party, seven years in the making, is infinitely more damaging than the ramifications of a three-week snapshot that starts well underwater because of partisan polarization,” former top Senate Republican aide Josh Holmes told The Fix's Blake recently.
One side is going to have to lose this standoff for Republicans to pass a health-care bill. But no matter who wins, polling keeps on suggesting that the Republican Party will pay a price, too. Which is why the more the bill's popularity sinks, the more you hear the GOP talk about Obamacare just to try to save it.