Wars and political campaigns have a lot in common. You can’t win a war without ammunition and a strategy, and you can’t win an election without issues and a game plan. The upcoming midterm election will be a test of which political party has the best ammunition and knows how to use it in the most effective way.
In the middle of the Obama years, the Republican Party went into the midterm battle with the issues that resonated the most with the public. The voters knew little about the Affordable Care Act, which came to be known as Obamacare, and the Republicans used it to bludgeon dozens of Democratic incumbents. Day after day, the GOP attacked the incumbents for voting for a costly program, which at that point had failed to build up a base of supporters.
On top of the Obamacare issue, the Republicans took advantage of the fact that the Democrats had accomplished very little in Washington in the short time they had been in control. President Obama’s promise of change didn’t materialize, even though the Republicans had been the architects of many of his failures.
Fast-forward to 2018 and the shoe is on the other foot. Even as a slightly disorganized party, the Democrats have the stronger issues in their arsenal, and they are using them just as effectively as the Republicans used their ammunition. Oddly enough, once again, health care is one of the top issues, and it favors the Democrats with almost any voting bloc you can think of. As of the beginning of this year, over 20 million people had signed up for Obamacare.
Republican governors in 12 states have done everything possible to undermine the program, and the net result is that they are converting independents, and some Republicans, into Democratic supporters in red states. In the 1980s, House Speaker Tip O’Neill started calling Social Security the “third rail” of American politics, and if you touched it, you did so at your own peril. In 2018, anyone who seeks to take away existing benefits, which means health care, will lose a lot of votes come November.
Republican leaders in Congress worked overtime to try to kill off every element of the Affordable Care Act, but thanks to the late Sen. John McCain, who cast a dramatic “no” vote, their efforts failed. The heated debate surrounding the bill made the public realize that the party in power was trying to take away their right to see a doctor. Political memories may be short, but today’s voter hasn’t forgotten how close the country was to losing basic care.
Now, with the election a few weeks away, House Speaker Paul Ryan would like to find ways to take coverage from people who need it for pre-existing conditions. Ryan is retiring, but if he had his way, he would make massive cuts in Medicare and Social Security, which he calls unnecessary “entitlements.” His dinosaur thinking has done more for the Democrats than anyone could imagine.
In my lifetime, I have never seen a political party as tone-deaf as the Republicans when it comes to women’s issues. Even though women will be a crucial group of voters in November, the old Republican curmudgeons in Washington still think that catering to the locker-room crowd that makes sly jokes about the opposite sex is going to keep them in office. Current polls are giving off flashing red lights that women are very unhappy with the Grand Old Party and are planning to let it know that come Nov. 6.
The average Republican member of Congress would love to be campaigning on the issue of the party’s tax-cut package. But the GOP is saddled with a president who steps on its message every day with some tweet that raises a firestorm. Attacks on the FBI, CIA and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have confused the typical Republican voter, and Trump’s insane tariff program is harming more businesses than it helps. The party’s anti-immigrant message may be popular, but separating children from their families has given the party another black eye.
Political historians are quick to remind us that every election cycle usually produces a new winner. A lot can happen in the next few weeks, but it appears that the Republican Party is fast running out of ammunition with no time to spare.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.