We've already established that Mitch McConnell is trying to dodge accountability for supporting Obamacare repeal by exploiting public confusion over the identity between Kentucky's successful, popular insurance exchange—Kynect—and the law itself.
But the real political bombshell here is that the senator feels compelled to dodge accountability for his position at all. This simple observation—perhaps subjoined by six or seven exclamation marks—shatters the conventional wisdom that Obamacare politics are simple, straightforward, and winning for this year's Republican candidates. And the many Democrats who adhere to that wisdom will blow a huge opportunity to capitalize on the opening McConnell just created, if they fail to set it aside for now.
I understand why these Democrats are reluctant. Conservatives spent the last eight months essentially executing a psy-op mission to convince liberals that Obamacare is much less supportable than it actually is, and intimidate Democrats out of running on it proactively. I've been arguing that the politics of Obamacare would undergo a marked shift in 2014 for a long time now, and more or less stuck to my guns during the rollout failures this past fall. Others did too. The whole way through, conservatives met us with gleeful mockery anytime we suggested Obamacare politics carried any risk for Republicans or were nuanced in any way. Including McConnell's spokesman!
These get better by the day: http://t.co/u7JuvkfgHA— Charles C. W. Cooke (@charlescwcooke) April 1, 2014
All of that was wrong. Obamacare will probably still net poorly for Democrats this year, but the complete picture turned out to be nowhere near as stark as conservatives believed, or wanted people to believe. Taking away people's health insurance is unsupportable. Repealing their consumer protections is unsupportable. McConnell understands this. It completely explains his latest equivocation. And his equivocation in turn proves that Democrats can alter the currents of Obamacare politics at key moments, but only if they're willing to occasionally brave its waters. McConnell's opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, dipped her big toe in those waters Wednesday, but couldn't ultimately bring herself to dive in with the crucial words "Affordable Care Act."
"Mitch McConnell has been in the fantasyland that is Washington for so long that he cannot tell the difference between fact and fiction," said her campaign manager, Jonathan Hurst. "McConnell has voted to destroy Kynect—and he has said he will do it again. In the U.S. Senate, Alison Lundergan Grimes will fix the law to ensure it is working for all Kentuckians."
Remember, McConnell's goal is to mislead voters into believing that repealing Obamacare won't have any bearing on Kynect. And his plan will only work if voters are confused about the connection between the two. Thus, Grimes can only close the loop by making it clear that repealing Obamacare is the thing that will destroy Kynect—even if that means making common cause with the Affordable Care Act. The above statement doesn't accomplish that. Absent a more aggressive followup, McConnell can carry on claiming that Grimes is mistaken, and that Kynect's fate is disconnected from the fate of the unpopular law that provided for its creation.
Kentucky's Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, who built the exchange, got closer, but fell short in the opposite direction. He rightly pointed out that Obamacare is wrapped up in all of its most popular benefits, but failed to include Kynect among them. As if Kentuckians will suddenly discover a connection between Kynect and Obamacare and burn their insurance cards. "Eliminating ACA means that folks with pre-existing conditions will struggle to find coverage, young adults won't be able to stay on their parents' coverage, women won't be treated equally by insurers and federal subsidies for Kentuckians will end," he said. "Senator McConnell either doesn't understand what the ACA is, or is just trying to mislead Kentucky families for his political benefit at their expense."
McConnell really stepped in it. Maybe a Republican candidate from Kentucky running in a non-presidential year can step in it with impunity these days. But he'll tap dance that manure all the way to a sixth term in the Senate if he's allowed to get away with whoppers this brazen. As much as voters might despise Obama, and Obamacare, and the endless fighting over Obamacare, I'm quite confident they prefer all three to unpopular incumbents who condescend to them and play them for fools.
Brian Beutler is a senior editor at The New Republic.