2014 a repeat of 2010

If the mere idea of ObamaCare fueled an historic GOP victory in 2010, just wait until reality sets in next year.

That year, Democrats in swing districts were swept from office, so those who kept their jobs are running as fast and as far from the reform law as they can this year. Not only did Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who helped write the bill, recently call it a “train wreck,” but Elizabeth Colbert Busch, who lost Tuesday’s special election in South Carolina to former Gov. Mark Sanford, called the law “extremely problematic,” blaming it for cutting Medicare benefits and causing companies to lay off employees in anticipation of the program’s high costs.

Indeed, a new tax on health insurance plans will cost small businesses an estimated $8 billion in 2014 and then $14.3 billion in 2018. According to a study by the National Federation of Independent Business, 262,000 jobs could be lost as a result. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) noted on the Senate floor Tuesday that the city of Long Beach, Calif., is keeping most of its 1,600 employees limited to 27 hours per week or less in order to avoid an estimated $2 million increase in healthcare costs that would cut jobs. 

Not only are there economic consequences, but the guarantee of coverage is also at risk. Unless young, healthy people join new exchanges, costs will inevitably rise for the rest of the population. In addition, several governors are refusing to expand Medicaid, leaving millions uninsured or putting more pressure on exchanges where workers whose employers do not insure them will be seeking government-subsidized coverage. Setting up the exchanges by Oct. 1 is a struggle, conceded Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who said at a speech at Harvard University in April that “We find ourselves still having sort of state-by-state political battles,” and that “getting the word out and setting up the infrastructure has been more complicated.”

When Republicans campaign against ObamaCare, Democrats will argue that GOP economic policies will destroy the social safety net. But no tired old Mediscare commercials about the Ryan budget knocking off Grandma are going to work for Democrats this time as they split in defense of the Affordable Care Act and Republicans scare patients in every age group. Mitt Romney won seniors handily in the 2012 presidential race, with Paul Ryan on the ticket. Democrats don’t win seniors, period. 

But a good 2014 doesn’t mean a good 2016 for the GOP. Republican dreams of recapturing the White House could easily remain fantasy at the rate the party continues to divide and deteriorate.

The midterm electorate will be white and old and far more conservative that the national coalition that elected President Obama in 2008 and 2012. Republicans will be handily reelected to their safe, bright red, Republican districts. A likely failure by Democrats to win the 17 seats required to flip the House will be perceived by Republicans as a resounding national rejection of Obama’s policies, who with the help of the Tea Party, will fool themselves into thinking they have turned the tide. 

The campaign for the presidential nomination in 2016 — now still behind the scenes — will burst in public view with candidates from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum trying to sell themselves as the most conservative. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whether or not his immigration reform bill passes, could find himself on the left side of the party. Meanwhile, what will the GOP have done to peel off Obama voters and broaden the tent far and wide enough to win? Perhaps replacing ObamaCare, or supporting immigration reform, gun control or gay marriage to earn the support of young, minority and female voters? Probably not.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.