In the closing days of this midterm election, it has become clear what both sides want this election to be about.
Democrats want it to be about health care. Republicans hope voters will focus on the economy and immigration.
Let us examine these issues more closely and the arguments made by both sides.
Democrats have been attempting to scare voters about the future of popular pre-existing health conditions protections in Obamacare. They point to dozens of votes by the Republican-dominated Congress to repeal the law while President Obama was in office. Republicans knew that a repeal would never be signed into law, but wanted voters to know what their position was and to offer a contrast with Democrats. The GOP position was politically beneficial in 2010 and 2014, when the health care law was deeply unpopular.
Fast-forward to 2018. Obamacare has become more popular as Democrats have compared it favorably to the Republican replacement proposals. Budget-scoring models made it easy for Democrats to argue that more than 10 million Americans would lose coverage under a Republican health care reform. Under Mr. Trump, a GOP repeal plan passed the House on the second attempt but failed to advance by a one-vote margin in the Senate.
Republicans did successfully repeal Obamacare’s mandate that everyone purchase health insurance, which taxed Americans who did not obtain coverage. This has effectively served as a partial repeal of the existing health law.
Meanwhile, Republican officials in at least 10 states are challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare, since the repeal of the individual mandate undercuts the Supreme Court’s original rationale in upholding the law’s constitutionality.
The central question on health care is this: Will the protections for those with pre-existing health problems go away if Republicans had their way?
The answer is a resounding no. Nearly every elected Republican recognizes this provision must remain, no matter what happens in the courts or on Congress.
For their part, Republicans really want the midterm election to be about the economy and the immigration problem.
President Trump and congressional Republicans deserve credit for the strong economy. The first tax reform law in a generation, combined with significant regulatory relief, have combined to unleash the power of the American economy.
The numbers speak for themselves: Two consecutive quarters of economic growth of over 4 percent. Unemployment at 3.7 percent, the lowest in more than 50 years. The lowest black, Hispanic, and Asian-American unemployment rate since records have been kept. Wages are rising. Consumer confidence is at a modern-era high. The list goes on.
Republicans needs to do a better job of explaining why the economy is improving and what would happen if Democrats regain power.
Democrats are pledging to pass new regulations and raise taxes. The contrast on the economy is sharp.
In recent weeks, the issue of immigration has also returned to the front-burner. The migrant caravan which began in Guatemala and is moving north through Mexico toward the southern U.S. border has focused the attention of the national media on this issue.
President Trump’s instinct has been to make the midterms about immigration. He wanted to pick a fight over border wall funding in September, but was convinced to wait until after the midterms.
He has responded to the migrant caravan with two significant steps: First, he is sending thousands of troops to the southern border. This has never happened before and will free up the Border Patrol by placing the military in logistical roles. Second, Mr. Trump is considering an executive order ending so-called birthright citizenship, although it’s unclear whether he has the constitutional authority to do this. Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, has said he will introduce legislation, but a constitutional amendment would require two-thirds majorities in both houses of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states.
Our ports of entry are not prepared to handle more than 4,000 in-person asylum claims in one day. The organizers of the migrant caravan know this. This is all coming to a decision point.
Both parties appear primarily focused on motivating their own bases. Republican enthusiasm has increased sharply in the past six weeks. After Tuesday night, we will see who won the issue war.
Matt Mackowiak is president of Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Strategy Group. He’s a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators.
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