What a difference a couple of weeks can make. In the wake of a disastrous decision to let Tea Party stalwarts muscle them into agreeing to a government shutdown, the Republican Party looked lost. Polls showed them bleeding support at levels that could conceivably hurt their hold on the House of Representatives next year as well as killing any hope they could take back control of the Senate. In doing so, it appeared as if this turn of events had saved the Obama administration from slipping into lame-duck status and irrelevancy. Democrats had good reason to crow about this and milked the general disgust about the shutdown as much as they could. But once the dust settled from that fiasco, it allowed both the media and the public to focus on what should have been the top story since October 1 but which had been obscured by the attention devoted to the shutdown: the farcical rollout of ObamaCare.
With each passing day since the president’s signature health-care legislation was launched it’s now obvious that the administration has lost control of the story. At first it was just a matter of a dysfunctional website. Then it became one in which the incompetence of the Department of Heath and Human Services was compounded by the arrogance of Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the denials of the White House. But once it became apparent that President Obama had been lying for the last three years when he repeatedly promised that Americans would be able to keep their insurance if they liked it rather than being forced onto the ObamaCare exchanges, a tipping point was reached. That more details are leaking out every day that reinforces the negative impression of ObamaCare is adding to the administration’s problems.
So it’s little surprise that the New York Times led its front-page with a story about how Democrats are “feeling anxious” about the future tied to the ObamaCare boondoggle. While some in the party are claiming, as Senator Chuck Schumer did, that the anger at the Tea Party over the shutdown will be more of a “long-term” liability for the GOP, most Democrats know better. The ObamaCare disaster not only changed the political narrative that worked so well for them. It goes straight to the heart of an underlying liberal weakness: the belief that big government is not only incompetent but also a threat to the wellbeing and the pocketbooks of ordinary Americans.
After a week spent dealing with Sebelius saying “whatever” to a question at a congressional hearing on the website disaster and a tortured denial and explanation from the White House about the fact that millions are losing their coverage in spite of the promises and guarantees from the president and other Democrats, the White House hoped they had hit bottom. But in the last day, we’ve gotten the first hard figures about ObamaCare enrollment that is subjecting the president to more derision as we now know that only six people in the entire country were able to enroll via the dysfunctional website on its first day and only a hundred or so the day after. Even worse, it now appears that some of the country’s top hospitals are opting out of ObamaCare. That means those forced into the exchanges won’t have access to some of the best medical institutions.
All this has created a political momentum shift that is startling in the swiftness with which it has undone the advantage the Democrats had recently enjoyed. In particular, the Virginia governor’s race, in which Democrat Terry McAuliffe seemed to have received a major boost from the shutdown fallout, has lost ground in the last week. While a week ago he looked to be pulling away with margins in some polls that were as high as 12 to 17 points, the focus on ObamaCare has pulled him back into single digits. While Democrats will focus on the polls that still show him leading by seven points, one is now measuring his advantage at only two points over Ken Cuccinelli. Though a last-minute comeback for the GOP seems unlikely given the changes in Virginia’s demographics, the shift in the polls still shows how badly the attention devoted to ObamaCare has impacted the president’s party.
This doesn’t mean the Republicans’ problems have gone away completely. The schism between Tea Party zealots and more mainstream Republicans still has the capacity to hurt the party badly. But what has happened with ObamaCare is not a two-week story. The more the public learns about its details and its impact on individuals and the economy, the less they are going to like it. Disingenuous explanations for the lies told while the White House was selling it are not going to help.
In order for the Tea Party theme to work for the Democrats, they are going to have to depend on a GOP civil war that will cripple the most electable Republicans. That could happen. But ObamaCare is a gift that will keep on giving for the GOP long after its website is made functional, assuming that ever happens.