Obama’s warning is buttressed by recent swing-state polling showing winnable voters are wary of abolishing private health care or legalizing undocumented immigrants’ trips across the border. The Blue Wall Voices Project found that in four key Midwest states, “Majorities of [swing] voters view a ban on fracking (54%), a national Medicare-for-all plan (62%), and stopping border detainments of people coming into the country illegally (71%) as bad ideas.” In the same study, self-described Democrats show higher levels of support for these policies.
Even within the Democratic Party, howls of protest greeted Warren’s initial Medicare-for-all. In response, Warren rolled out a “transition” plan to reach universal coverage in stages that seems to mimic the proposals advanced by her rivals, even though just weeks ago she was condemning anyone who didn’t sign up for a radical transformation of the health insurance industry.
In her current iteration, Warren’s Medicare-for-all proposal runs the risk of both disappointing progressive and failing to mollify moderates. As Annie Linsky reported in The Washington Post:
Under Warren’s new plan, which she calls a “Medicare for All option,” all Americans would be eligible to participate in Medicare, but no one would have to. She would push for this initiative in her first 100 days in the White House, then make a separate effort to pass Medicare-for-all later in her first term. . . .Experts and rivals portrayed the move as a retreat from one of Warren’s highest-profile policy positions on a matter that’s of top importance to many voters. Her position arguably now resembles the “public option” favored by many of her centrist competitors: a proposal that would allow Americans to choose a government-run program if they wanted, rather than the mandatory approach favored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Sure enough, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former vice president Joe Biden both slammed her effort to have it all ways in widely-circulated statements. Buttigieg’s camp wrote that "Despite adopting Pete’s language of ‘choice,’ her plan is still a ‘my way or the highway’ approach that would eradicate choice for millions of Americans. No amount of Washington political games can save her plan from that fatal flaw: she still doesn’t trust the American people to make the right health care decisions for themselves.”
Biden’s camp chimed in: “What started out as ‘mathematical gymnastics’ have been replaced by a full program of flips and twists covering every element of her plan. Reporting today indicates that this is because even her own aides didn’t realize the importance of health care in this campaign until recent weeks, and have scrambled to land on a politically advantageous position.” Biden’s campaign accuses her of a bait and switch: “This latest plan will also delay the introduction of her full Medicare for All proposals as far as three years into her term, after the midterms — a move that doesn’t exactly address the urgency of now.”
So was Warren right to retreat, in essence following Obama’s admonition even before he issued it? Perhaps, but the resulting image is of an erratic politician whose heart is with the far left but who sees her campaign in peril. If authenticity and wonky precision were her brand, her latest move will leave many Democrats feeling that she is less trustworthy than either Sanders, who is sticking to actual Medicare-for-all, or the moderates who have warned consistently not to throw people off private insurance.
Obama’s lesson is the correct one: Do not go so far left as to give Trump leverage in the general election. However, voters and candidates should also heed the first rule of politics: Voters can spot a phony a mile away. Obama’s advice would lead Democrats desperate to win to one of the many candidates who have never embraced Medicare-for-all. The 2020 election may depend on whether they take it.