Conservatives Rebel Over Obamacare Replacement

The Briefing, Vol. V, Issue 11-
This week:

  • Obamacare repeal presents Trump with his first true party leadership test
  • Trump helps Hatch by hiring Huntsman
  • A primary challenge for Manchin?


Obamacare repeal: As part of their promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, Republicans have unveiled a reconciliation bill — a bill that can pass the Senate with 51 votes, but which is limited in what it can do by arcane parliamentary rules.

President Trump supports the bill, which presents him with a first major test of his leadership. Can he succeed where others — specifically, his ally and endorser John Boehner, failed? Can he tame an unwilling conservative caucus in the House and Senate in order to get through a bill that many conservatives believe falls short of the promises they made to the voters?

During week one, Trump seems to have done his level best. Through personal meetings, he and Vice President Pence persuaded some conservative activists to hold their fire, at least for the moment. But several conservative lawmakers have already committed themselves to opposing the bill. The measure would reform Medicaid and defund Planned Parenthood, while ameliorating some of Obamacare’s distortions to the individual health insurance market, but it would also preserve coverage subsidies as a federal entitlement, just in a more Republican way — through tax credits.

The debate in conservative circles has come down to whether the bill is the good and the enemy of the perfect, or whether it is just “RyanCare,” the watered down, pro-business version of Obamacare. Merits aside, it puts Trump into the first situation where he can prove that his pragmatic deal-making approach is just what Washington needed. If he can satisfy enough House members and senators to get this through, it will make a very strong case for him.

Of course, that’s not the only relevant test here. The bill also has to work well so that it doesn’t create the kind of backlash that Obamacare created for Democrats. But it’s a start, and a chance for Trump to show that his way is a better way than that of the GOP leaders who preceded him.

House 2017

Georgia-6: There is finally a poll in the closely-watched race where Democrats have their best chance by far of scoring a coup. Its results (you can learn more here) hint that President Trump is faring better in this district on his approval rating than his slim win on election day would suggest. As we have noted previously, this jungle primary race is almost certain to go to a runoff.

Senate 2018

Utah: As we suspected previously, President Trump has helped one of his more important Republican allies of 2016. He has cleared Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch’s most formidable rival from the field by appointing former Gov. Jon Huntsman as his ambassador to Russia. And on the heels of that announcement, Hatch announced he is running for re-election.

This doesn’t mean Hatch will have a free pass, but Huntsman might well have squashed him in a primary, or even (as some speculated) as an independent in a general election.

Huntsman’s extended trip to Moscow (he is a shoo-in for confirmation) means that if Hatch faces primary opposition, it will likely come either from Evan McMullin (that could get very interesting) or from some young and hungry conservative longshot in the mould of Mike Lee.

In case it is McMullin: If Utahns are satisfied after about a year of the Trump presidency, then interest in McMullin is likely to wane. But if there’s general dissatisfaction — well, that’s another story. McMullin got 244,000 votes in November — far less than Trump, but far more than the 98,000 that it took for Lee to win the last competitive GOP Senate midterm primary in 2010. There does exist an army out there to be mobilized.

Either way, it’s important to note that the state’s election rules have changed since Lee’s insurgent triumph. Now, anyone can make the ballot by gathering signatures. In 2010, Lee and Tim Bridgewater exited the state party convention with enough votes to make the primary ballot, but Bennett was disqualified after finishing third.

The new rules might have made Lee’s victory less likely by pitting him against Bennett in a primary election. But against Hatch, who has has worked for years to cultivate a better relationship with the state party officials who attend conventions, the new rules might work more in favor of someone like McMullin, who would be far less likely to keep Hatch from the 60 percent that used to clinch the nomination automatically.
Another thing to keep in mind: Trump would pull out all the stops he could to help Hatch in a race against the man who tried to cost him Utah. But keep in mind that Trump finished last out of three candidates in the primary there, and in the general election got his lowest percentage of the vote in Utah (45 percent) in any state he won.

West Virginia: One of Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s best assets in a general election will be his moderation and support for many Republican policies. But in a primary, that’s a different story. Politico Pro reported last week that former U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, who ran for and lost the Democratic gubernatorial nomination last year, may run against Manchin from his Left.

National Democrats have been chomping at the bit for the opportunity to defeat Manchin, but it’s worth noting that no other Democrat would have much of a chance of holding this seat.

Nor is any sort of genuine progressive likely to win the Democratic primary. In the 2012 primary, West Virginia Democrats came frighteningly close to choosing a prison inmate over Barack Obama.

They may find it even easier to vote against the liberal if given a more respectable choice.

Governor 2018

Colorado: With Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) bowing out after two terms, former Democratic Senator and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is weighing a bid. He says he won’t decide until this summer.

He would be very tough for Republicans to beat in a general election — they learned this in 2004, when what was supposed to be a competitive race to succeed Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell turned into a rout.

In a primary, Salazar might well test the strength of the centrist wing of the state’s Democratic voting population. Salazar, who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 and gave her campaign advice against Bernie Sanders, has also supported Keystone and other oil pipeline projects, as well at the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.

The emergence of Democrats as Colorado’s dominant party is more about interstate migration and the ascendancy of white urban liberals than the state’s growing Hispanic population. The progressives who vote in Democratic primaries are unlikely to let someone like Salazar have it without a fight, but they haven’t been successful in primaries against other moderate Democrats like Sen. Michael Bennet.

Republicans, who have struggled in Colorado, retained their slim state Senate majority in 2016, but lost three seats in the state House.

Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Wolf has officially announced he is running for re-election. On the heels of their surprise triumph in both the Senate and presidential elections in 2016, Republicans would really like to win back this governorship so as to have full control of the redistricting process in 2020.

Republicans have gained in both houses of the state legislature in each of the last two election cycles — both the one in which Wolf won (2014) and in 2016.

State Sen. Scott Wagner, a businessman who who won his seat as a write-in candidate in a 2014 special election, was the first to jump into this race on the Republican side. Wagner has a few things in common with Trump. After winning that first race, he went straight for the throat of a GOP leadership that he viewed as too cozy with the state’s unions in an effort that ultimately ousted the state Senate majority leader.

Wisconsin: Already, the controversial 2011 collective bargaining reforms by Gov. Scott Walker had become so mainstream and popular that his 2014 opponent did not campaign against them. But now, one of the few Democrats who had been willing to compromise during the passage of Act 10 has thrown his hat into the ring.

As Walker runs for his third term, it is highly unlikely that any Democrat will campaign on repealing Act 10. But the nomination of former Democratic state Sen. Tim Cullen would especially signify that the labor Left in the Badger State is truly broken and done for.

Cullen, the septuagenarian who brokered a compromise that other state Senate Democrats rejected, has signaled that he will be running. The other major player who hasn’t yet weighed in is Rep. Ron Kind, who represents a Trump-friendly Democratic district in the western part of the state.