Republicans Shift Gears On Obamacare Attack Ads

Posted: Aug 20, 2014 2:40 PM

Just as Democrats are shying away from “War on Women” tactics since American women see them as too divisive, Republicans are shifting away from attacking Obamacare directly in attack ads. Now, they’re pivoting towards the law’s impact on the economy (via Bloomberg):

The shift -- also taking place in competitive states such as Arkansas and Louisiana -- shows Republicans are easing off their strategy of criticizing Democrats over the Affordable Care Act now that many Americans are benefiting from the law and the measure is unlikely to be repealed.

“The Republican Party is realizing you can’t really hang your hat on it,” said Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University. “It just isn’t the kind of issue it was.”

In April, anti-Obamacare advertising dwarfed all other spots in North Carolina. It accounted for 3,061, or 54 percent, of the 5,704 top five issue ads in North Carolina, according to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group. By July, the numbers had reversed, with anti-Obamacare ads accounting for 971, or 27 percent, of the top issue ads, and the budget, government spending, jobs and unemployment accounting for 2,608, or 72 percent, of such ads, CMAG data show

It is a recognition that there’s more going on in this state and also nationally than just frustration over Obamacare,” said Jordan Shaw, Tillis’s campaign manager. “We have never had an approach to make this campaign all about the Affordable Care Act. You can’t have a conversation about Obamacare without talking about its impact on the economy.”

The Republican approach, long defined by a “repeal and replace” mantra, is also challenged by a policy void, said Jennifer Duffy, a Senate analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “You can’t really repeal it without creating a mess,” she said, “and the problem is they’re not entirely sure what to replace it with.”

The reason for pivoting on the Obamacare ads could be Gallup noting that “the rate of uninsured people has dropped in all except five states. Two critical states, Arkansas and Kentucky, had the biggest declines. In Arkansas, the rate of people without health insurance fell from 22.5 percent in 2013 to 12.4 percent in mid-2014,” according to Bloomberg.

As more people enroll under the Affordable Care Act, the harder it’ll be for conservatives to campaign against Obamacare and say it's a lousy law.  It's definitely true, but whether we like it or not, the larger electorate will see these ads as Republican attempts to take away their health care. That problem will be magnified once more Americans are enrolled under the ACA by 2016. Will our 2016 GOP nominee really campaign on a platform that seeks to take away insurance from millions of Americans–or at least that’s how the media will frame it? If that’s the case, Election Day 2016 will be a short night, with a Democrat back in the White House.

Yet, that doesn’t mean conservatives should just stop fighting Obamacare legally on what are legitimate constitutional issues. The second front in that war is having a replacement plan; something to tell voters besides “repeal it!”

Avik Roy released his white paper of the subject last week. It’s worth a read. But, Republicans have had alternatives to fix our health care system since the Clinton administration. Chris Conover at Forbes provided a history of Republican health care alternatives last summer, most notably Bushcare. 

In 2007, President Bush had a “reform plan that would have replaced the current tax exclusion for employer-provided coverage with standard tax deductions for all individuals and families,” Conover wrote. “The Bush plan called for a tax deduction that would have applied to payroll taxes as well as income taxes. Moreover, if one were worried about non-filers, the subsidy could easily have instead been structured as a refundable tax credit in which case even those without any income taxes would have gotten an additional amount.”

If Democrats were willing to work with Republicans back in the day, the reward could’ve been reducing the number of uninsured Americans by 65%, compared to Obamacare’s 45% when the law is fully-implemented by 2016. Oh, and the Bush plan had no mandate.

Right now, Republicans could continue to bash the president’s signature domestic achievement; the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is still having trouble getting the Open Payments database off the ground. But what will get independents to tilt towards the right come Election Day is focusing on the law's impact on jobs and the economy, according to Republican pollster Whit Ayers. It’ll probably get even better once Republicans reach a consensus on how to replace Obamacare.  There's plenty of ideas out there.

Editor's note: This post has been updated since publication.