Could This Trip Up McConnell?


It’s treated as a given that Obamacare will be at best a wash for Democrats this year. And because out-party voters and Republicans (who happen to be the same people this year) will be highly motivated, it could well hurt Democrats quite a bit. That seems especially so since so many key Senate races are in largely white and ruralish states where Obama and Obamacare have always been disproportionately unpopular. But I’m starting to think there’s a chance Obamacare could be Mitch McConnnell’s undoing.

To be clear, I’m not saying Mitch is going to be driven from office on a tide of Obamacare love. Obamacare has been very successful in Kentucky – because of the Governor’s and key state lawmakers’ almost heroic effort to make immediate political calculations take a back seat to helping the health and wellbeing of their constituents. But the real story is contained in the fact that creating that success has been accomplished to a significant extent by ducking the “Obamacare” brand in favor of the state exchange and its accompanying programs – which they call “Kynect”.

Coverage out of Kentucky over the last six months has been replete with articles with woman on the street (or often woman in the clinic) articles with voters saying things like, “This Kynect is great. A helluva lot better than Obamacare.”

The plan’s promoters and architects have been happy to go along with this rather imperfect understanding of the relationship between Kynect and Obamacare/ACA. As well they should. Indeed, I believe it’s been a formalized part of the promotional strategy.

That’s exactly as it should be since the point is to get people coverage not to build name recognition for the program’s political brand. But it does leave the program’s supporters with a “Keep the government’s hands off my Medicare” problem where people love the program but don’t connect it to the political powers and coalitions that make it possible.

But public attitudes toward Obamacare are evolving and I think McConnell may have found a way to seriously trip himself up on this issue. As you may have noticed last week, McConnell told the state’s voters that he says Obamacare has to go but Kentucky should be able to keep Kynect if they want to. His aides implied that keeping it might well be a good idea. Even Rand Paul, in perhaps an effort to throw McConnell a lifeline, got himself bent in knots about whether Kynect should be dismantled along with Obamacare.

As everyone realizes, this is ridiculous. Get rid of ‘Obamacare’ and Kynect collapses. That’s because Kynect is Obamacare, whatever words you might want to use to describe it. State Dems all pounced. Gov. Beshear (D) said he was either deeply ignorant or equally dishonest. And one of the state’s leading papers followed with a scorching editorial ridiculing McConnell’s impossible effort to bring an unbridgeable divide.

As we all know, BS is no liability in politics. In fact, it’s a core product. And generally it’s no real liability. But one of the most underrated lethalities in politics is something that makes you look silly, mockable, visibly off your footing and unable or unwilling to just say what you mean. Remember, I was for it before I was against it.

Policy details are complicated and the media’s approach to covering them makes them still more opaque. But these sort of “D’oh!” clumsily played BS moments are the sorts of things people readily understand and they tend to make the person seem contemptible and weak.

Perhaps another way to put it is that BS is usually just fine in politics but nonsense tends to get you in trouble. And McConnell’s in nonsense territory here.

None of this is to say that McConnell’s going to lose over this. The ingrained and partisan opposition to Obama and Obamacare could be more than enough to bring him home in an off year election. And McConnell, even though he’s now running about even with Grimes, just has the voodoo for that state in much the way Harry Reid did in Nevada in 2010. Kentuckians don’t particularly like Mitch and he’s now saddled with the national baggage that all congressional leaders carry. But he’s just got that state wired. So there’s no counting him out or not considering him the frontrunner no matter what the numbers say.

But I think the Democrats have an opening here to rough him up real bad, in a way I’m not certain the national media quite yet grasp.

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