Despite all of the dubious talk from some conservatives about the 2008 election, the notion a better Republican candidate than John McCain would have beaten Barack Obama is happy pill talk and not wedded to reality. Barack Obama had the perfect storm to win. An unpopular President beat down due to an unpopular war and an economy in freefall. When the inevitable happened, and Obama won, Republicans could do nothing except plan for the 2010 congressional races.
It wasn’t long before Republicans had the perfect target: Obamacare. Before final passage, Republicans began to plot out election strategies focused on one thing: repealing The Affordable Care Act. With a Democratic majority and some sleight of hand (It’s confusing. Obamacare was made up of two bills – The Affordable Care Act was passed by the House without amendment on March 21, 2010, and went to President Obama for signature as it mirrored the Senate bill. Both chambers of Congress passed The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 on March 25, 2010), Barack Obama had his victory. Republicans now had their clarion call for taking back control of Congress.
To say the strategy was to repeal Obamacare before it became law is not an exaggeration. On January 14, 2010, Chris Chocola the Club For Growth president at the time, wrote the following in Politico:
The 2010 and 2012 elections, then — and not this month’s bribe-a-thon on Capitol Hill — will determine the impact and legacy of the Democrats’ health care gambit.
And Republicans should insist on it.
If and when Obamacare becomes law, repealing it will immediately become the most important conservative economic policy goal since the Reagan tax cuts. The tax increases, individual mandate, premium hikes, new government agencies and powers and the stealth scaffolding for a single-payer system tucked into the House and Senate bills represent an existential threat to American prosperity.
The strategy worked. Republicans took back the House, and if not for several candidate screwups, the GOP might have taken control of the Senate. Republicans tried (and somehow failed) to use it to their advantage in 2012, but scored in 2014 when they took over the Senate. Leading up to that point, the House passed 238 Obamacare repeal bills knowing they wouldn’t see the light of day in the Harry Reid controlled Senate. When they controlled the House and Senate, they sent a “repeal” bill to Obama’s desk, and he immediately vetoed. Interestingly enough, that bill was not a full repeal of the ACA. You can see the text of the bill here. It amended the law by eliminating funding, but the law remained in place.
It’s part of the reason the GOP couldn’t just pass the same bill once Trump took office. It didn’t provide any real changes to the law as written. It was an easy way for Republicans to “prove” they tried to “repeal” Obamacare with Obama in the White House, but it was nothing more than a show vote like all the others.
It is now 2018. Outside of a tax bill, Congressional Republicans don’t have much to tell constituents back home. The repeal of Obamacare was their white whale for so long; they’re likely not sure what to do this time around. Republicans lost their best chance for reversal in early 2017. By the time the House and Senate managed to pull something together, it was too late. The political winds shifted. Donald Trump, ever the ignoramus, didn’t help matters by talking out of his rear end about the legislation he didn’t understand.
Trump’s other problem was making enemies along the way to the White House. Thinking of himself as a boss instead of part of a co-equal branch of government, Trump couldn’t comprehend that lashing out at members of Congress, especially those in the GOP, wouldn’t help him when it came time to pass critical legislation. And yes, no matter what you think about how that town works, personal relationships matter and if people don’t like who you are as a person, not much will get done. Trump learned that the hard way.
And now Republicans will learn what it’s like to win an election without the promise of repealing The Affordable Care Act.