So far in the midterm election cycle there are indications that the Democrat blue wave may be foundering on a lack of policy prescriptions and an overreliance on Trump-hate. Generic ballots, which had shown a strong Democrat advantage, in early May showed a narrowing with one poll even showing Republicans up by five points. It seemed as though the combination of a rebounding economy and the lack of a coherent Democratic message may have spared the GOP. Now Democrats are coalescing around a few key messages that they believe will allow them to sweep away the Republican majority. Ironically, the Democratic talking points are stolen from Republican platforms of recent elections.
The biggest issue that Democrats hope to capitalize on is healthcare. Repeal of Obamacare has been a Republican goal since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, but after last year’s failure to pass a reform bill, the GOP has gone silent on the issue. Meanwhile health insurance premiums are increasing both for Obamacare policies and the market as a whole.
Democratic primary winners believe that the solution to the health insurance crisis is to expand Medicare to cover all Americans, a back-door plan to institute a single-payer health care system. Axios reports that Democratic candidates who support varying versions of Medicare-for-all are often winning primaries against candidates backed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Although it is tempting for conservatives to assume that single-payer health care would be a nonstarter for most Americans, the idea polls pretty well. A March 2018 poll from the nonpartisan Kaiser Foundation found 59 percent of Americans like the idea of Medicare-for-all. When the national health plan was made a voluntary option, the share of those in favor increased to 75 percent, including 64 percent of Republicans.
Perhaps ominously for Republicans running against the idea, 74 percent of independents favored the idea of an optional national health insurance plan. The big question is how voters in swing House and Senate districts will view the idea.
“People are increasingly happy with the Affordable Care Act, but they are increasingly unhappy with the health-care system writ large,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “I think there is a greater willingness to accept a bigger role for public programs in repairing the health-care system.”
Following the lead of Bernie Sanders, most of the potential Democrat candidates in 2020 have also endorsed some form of Medicare-for-all. A pro-single-payer Democrat running against incumbent Donald Trump, who endorsed universal health care in the 2016 Republican primary, could make for an interesting, if uninspiring, race.
A second plan of attack for Democrats is to blame high gas prices on the Trump Administration. The high price of gasoline is caused by crude oil prices recovering after a four-year slump. Rising oil prices are caused by several factors, some of which can be blamed on the Trump Administration and some of which cannot. President Trump is not at fault for OPEC production cuts, declining oil production from Venezuela or increased demand for the summer travel season, but his policies do affect tensions in the Middle East and with China.
Regardless of whether he is responsible, the president gets the credit for good news and the blame for the bad. High gas prices can quickly eat up the savings from last year’s tax cut for lower-income Americans as well as slow economic growth.
In early May, Patrick DeHaan of Gas Buddy told the New York Post that prices were already affected, even before Trump announced the decision to withdraw from the Obama Iran deal. “The market has already baked in that Trump is going to opt out of the Iran deal. Oil is several dollars per barrel higher because of it, DeHaan said.
“It's well known that geopolitical instability drives oil prices, and gas prices, around the world higher and higher,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). “The Trump administration's chaotic approach to foreign policy not only served instability around the world, it certainly serves to drive up oil prices higher and higher.”
Neither line of attack is a sure thing for Democrats, but healthcare and gas prices finally give Democrats something other than Donald Trump to talk about. These two pocketbook issues have the potential to win independent voters over the Democratic side unless Republicans can offer a persuasive case against their ideas.
[Photo credit: David Flickr]