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.
A WSJ/NBC News poll today is out with what is at first a surprising result. They find that when people are asked whether they have a positive or negative view of their own party, Thirty-two percent of non-Tea Party Republicans respond in the negative while only 21% of Tea Party Republicans do so:
Given how much the Tea Party rails against the Republican Party and the establishment, it seems contradictory that more non-Tea Partiers actually have a negative opinion of the party as a whole. Except, this view doesn’t take into account what the party is actually doing. The fact of the matter is that the Tea Party controls the House GOP right now, which, as the only part of the party that controls a branch of Congress, then has the ability to dictate its agenda. Thus, the government shutdown, no immigration reform and a strict adherence to no new revenues. These are all policies that grew out of the Tea Party movement and the Republican Party has now adopted. Of course, the Tea Party has more favorable views of the Republican Party than non-Tea Pariers do! The Tea Party is in control.
This can be seen clearly in the same WSJ/NBC News poll when it asks about compromising on a budget deal. Here are the results:
Non-Tea Partiers want to make a budget deal by an overwhelming amount while the Tea Party wants the party to stick to its position by an even greater amount. Overall, the party is split. Guess what? The Tea Party wins. We certainly aren’t getting a big budget deal. At most it will be a small compromise and even that is unlikely. Polling for immigration reform shows a similar split where the Tea Party is against a path to citizenship while the rest of the party is open to it. There too, the Tea Party’s preferences have become the Republican Party line.
This perfectly represents why non-Tea Partiers give the party such a negative view as a whole. They are the ones who have been cut out and ignored, not the Tea Party. If anything, it’s surprising that nearly a fifth of Tea Partiers have a negative view of the GOP. After all, the Republican Party is following the Tea Party’s strategy to a tee.