My post earlier focused on the fact that there were so many unique factors affecting Virginia’s gubernatorial contest that it was impossible to use the results as any indication of the national political sentiment. One area in particular that reporters have settled on is whether the election was a referendum on Obamacare, and if so, what it means. Michael Barone and James Hohmann think it was and that Obamacare almost cost McAuliffe the governorship. Ezra Klein and Greg Sargent disagree. Igor Volsky thinks Obamacare was the biggest winner from last night’s election.
Here’s my question: who cares?
I have yet to see anyone give a legitimate explanation for why it matters whether or not last night’s election was a referendum on Obamacare. It matters even less if Obamacare was a winner or a loser. Virginians elected a Democratic governor in an off-year election, but exit polls suggest that voters opposed Obamacare 53 to 45 percent. Those are the facts. Did Ken Cuccinelli’s last-minute decision to make Obamacare a focal point of his campaign increase his vote share? Maybe. I don’t know. There are no exit polls on it for us to find out.
But in the end, this doesn’t matter at all. Whether or not Virginians approve of Obamacare right now isn’t important, because the earliest Obamacare is on the ballot again will be November 2013, after the law’s been implemented, the insurance market has settled and millions more people have coverage. Maybe Americans will find they are paying more, have fewer choices of doctors and are paying for benefits they don’t need. Maybe they will love the subsidies, the increased security and the cheaper options. No one knows for sure how Obamacare is going to play out, but how it does will determine what people think of the law.
President Obama and Senate Democrats are not going to back down. After a Supreme Court challenge, the 2012 election and a government shutdown, we are just a few short months away from finding out if Obamacare works. We’re past the politics of it. It may have affected the Virginia election, but even if it did, does it matter? Opinions are going to change depending on whether the law fails or succeeds.
Neither party should look at last night’s election as evidence that they should use Obamacare in the 2014 election. Instead, they need to monitor public opinion over the next nine months. If people are happy with the law, Republicans are in trouble. If not, Democrats will be. Last night’s election has no bearing on that. The only exception to this, as Alex MacGillis points out, is that McAuliffe’s victory increases the odds that Virginia will expand Medicaid. That would certainly be a huge victory for Obamacare and for the 400,000 uninsured Virginians who fall into the doughnut hole. But nevertheless, that’s a policy outcome of the election. It’s not a political one. Obamacare is now the law of the land and how it works will determine its favorability. Whether or not Virginians voted on it last night means absolutely nothing going forward. Let’s stop pretending it does.
A number of political prognosticators are recapping Terry McAuliffe’s closer-than-expected victory in Virginia’s gubernatorial election over Republican firebrand Ken Cuccinelli to mean a number of different things. Some believe that Cuccinelli’s radical views, particularly on abortion and contraception, demonstrate the Tea Party’s increasing unpopularity with the majority of Americans. Some see Cuccinelli’s lack of support from the Republican Party and his limited campaign donations as indicative that he could have won with a bit more backing. Others see the unexpected tightness of the race to mean that Republicans haven’t lost Virginia as badly as it may seem. Many conservatives think Republicans won a referendum on Obamacare. Liberals think they did. Some think libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis cost Cuccinelli the governorship (it didn’t). Yet others think it was Cuccinelli’s connections to current Governor Bob McDonnell’s scandal and the government shutdown that gave McAuliffe the victory.
There are plenty of views to go around. Guess what? All of them are pointless. This a time when the best thing to say is: I don’t know.
Virginia’s gubernatorial race was unique in that it pitted two candidates against each other who were both disliked by voters. Near the end of the race, Republicans foolishly shut down the government, something that they were blamed for and affected Virginia more than any other state thanks to its significant ties to federal agencies. Cuccinelli was painted as a radical social conservative, specifically on abortion, and did not harp Obamacare, as many Republican politicians have, until late in the race. McAuliffe brought in Democratic heavyweights including the Clintons and President Obama to campaign for him.
All of these things make it impossible to deduce national implications from this election. It’s almost impossible to deduce any implications for Virginia next year even.
Here are a few questions to think about:
- Would Cuccinelli’s Tea Party views have been rejected even more with a better Democratic candidate?
- Would a stronger, moderate Republican candidate have defeated McAuliffe and kept Virginia red?
- Would Cuccinelli have won, and thus demonstrated the Tea Party’s continued power, if he had more money and national support?
- Would a victory in that scenario have been a referendum on the Tea Party or just a result of a weak Democratic nominee?
There is almost nothing you can take from this race that has any meaning politically. It simply has too many outside factors that impacted it in ways that are impossible to take into account. A tweet from Jonathan Chait summed it up best:
Anyone trying to tell you what the Virginia gubernatorial election means for the Democrat or Republican Party is taking a guess. The truth is that there is no way to take a larger meaning from this race. Sometimes it’s best for political commentators to admit that they don’t know what the main takeaway is from a certain election. This is one of those occasions.
It is conventional wisdom right now that the Republican Party really needs to pass immigration reform in the next year or two. Mitt Romney struggled with Hispanics and as they become a larger part of the electorate, the Republican Party will struggle to stay competitive if it loses a significant portion of their vote. That’s why the RNC’s autopsy of last year’s election advised passing comprehensive immigration reform:
[W]e must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.
This is a widely held view amongst political pundits and policymakers alike. Democrats have put pressure on Republicans to pass an immigration bill, because they believe the worst-case scenario is a political victory where the House kills the legislation. It’s a win-win for them. Either they earn a major legislative accomplishment or a political victory.
All of these analyses are based on the fundamental misunderstanding of the importance of immigration reform to Hispanics and the many other reasons that Hispanics are turning away from the GOP. The Republican Party’s extremism is alienating many demographics, but commentators do not propose a single prescription to reverse those trends as they do with Hispanics and immigration. The reasons that so many Americans are becoming more supportive of Democrats are the same reasons that Hispanics are doing so: they agree with the Democratic Party on most issues.
Let’s start with the social ones. Exit polls from last year election found that 66% of Hispanics (including 64% of men) favored legal abortion while 59% said their state should legalize same-sex marriage. A more recent poll found Hispanics favoring same sex marriage by a 55-43 margin and opposing abortion by 52-46. Nevertheless, many pundits blindly assume that Hispanics are social conservatives. That’s clearly not true.
The same poll found that Hispanics rate unemployment, the quality of public schools, the deficit and the cost of college as more important to them than immigration. Nearly two-thirds of Hispanics think the government should invest more to spur economic growth instead of cutting taxes to do so. Fifty eight percent favored universal health care, although they were split on Obamacare.
In line with these findings, a ImpreMedia and Latino Decisions exit poll found that only 12% of Hispanics favor the current Republican policy line of reducing the deficit with spending cuts only. Forty two percent want a combination of both spending cuts and tax increases while 35% want to reduce the deficit entirely through higher revenues. The same poll found that 61% of Hispanics wanted to leave Obamacare in place, compared to 25% who wanted to repeal it.
Hispanics are not natural Republicans. Their opinions are very much in line with the rest of the nation, which mean that they currently favor liberal positions. The Republican Party’s problem with Hispanics is the same one that it has with other demographics. It’s taken extreme positions on a number of issues and refused to compromise. Passing immigration reform would earn the GOP more support from Hispanics, but so would supporting gay marriage and passing an infrastructure bill. The Republican Party can win back Hispanic voters in other ways without passing immigration reform, but it requires the party to compromise, something it has proven unable to do.
Luckily for the GOP, they have a perfect example of a candidate who has done so in Chris Christie. The New Jersey governor won reelection last night by 21 points, but most importantly he split the Hispanic vote in a very blue state. Josh Barro and Brett Logiurato reported from Union City, which is 85% Hispanic but has quite a few Christie supporters:
When we asked Union City rally attendees why they back Christie, they rarely cited policy specifics. Instead, four consistent themes emerged: They like and trust him personally; they appreciate his ability to forge bipartisan compromises; they think he did a good job handling Hurricane Sandy recovery; and they feel he has been available and treated their local governments well.
Christie worked across the aisle with the Democratic state legislature, responded impressively to Hurricane Sandy and is personally well-liked. This is a model for how national Republicans can win back Hispanics and voters of all ethnicities. It doesn’t require passing immigration reform. It does require actively trying to help people, instead of only shutting down the president’s agenda. As the Republican governor of a blue state, Christie has shown he is capable of doing that. He could win the presidency even if congressional Republicans doesn’t pass immigration reform. The Republican Party just has to give him a chance.