Once their rallying cry, Obamacare is suddenly a sticky campaign issue for Republicans
For the first time in nearly a decade, Republicans are heading into a national election divided and defensive over healthcare, the very issue that once propelled them to majorities in the House and Senate.
After failing to deliver on their years-long promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act and faced with the sudden popularity of Obamacare’s consumer protections, GOP candidates across the country are struggling to put together a cohesive message on healthcare.
Die-hards still want to repeal the 2010 law, but a growing number of Republicans — particularly those facing tough elections — want to quietly admit defeat and move on to other issues.
“Even to bring it up is picking at the scab,” said Joe Antos, a health policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. “It’s reminding people that they [failed]. The base isn’t that stupid.”
Other GOP candidates find themselves trying to thread an awkward needle of opposing Obamacare — a law that is still unpopular with base voters — while supporting some of its key provisions. A few Republicans who once called for the repeal of Obamacare are now even embracing it, albeit cautiously.
Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio), who is seeking reelection in a district that leans Republican, is running ads boasting that he opposed his party’s attempt to eliminate protections for people with preexisting conditions.
But between 2013 and 2016, Joyce cast dozens of votes to repeal or undermine the health law. Back then, when President Obama was able to veto repeal efforts, Republicans like Joyce were able to vote against Obamacare with no threat of their constituents losing coverage. After Donald Trump was elected and Republicans tried to repeal the law, Joyce changed his position.
Republican candidates for governor in Ohio and Nevada, both once-harsh critics of Obamacare, now say they won’t — if elected — undo previous decisions to expand Medicaid in their states through the 2010 law.