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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Real Purpose of GOP Shutdown: Black Out Obamacare Debut

If the real purpose of the Republican shutdown of the federal government was to blow the debut of the Affordable Care Act exchange marketplaces off the front pages of newspapers and lead stories of TV news, it succeeded beyond the GOP’s hopes.
As we go to press, for example, there are no above-the-fold stories spotlighting the debut of Obamacare exchanges on The New York Times electronic edition front page. You have to scroll down, way down, to see the small type headline “Text: Obama’s Remarks on the Budget and Health Law.”
Ditto for the Washington Post, except their small type headline “Lane: What the GOP missed on Obamacare” is perched in the “Opinion” box, not too far below the electronic “fold,” and a little lower in the box they have “Wemple: Fox News has lost it on Obamacare” and then the WaPo editorial Board’s “Obamacare’s Big Moment” and “Site to buy Obamacare policies is ready, but glitches likely, officials warn.” Other stories in both of the top newspapers referenced Obamacare only in connection to the Shutdown.
On the front page of USA Today‘s electronic edition, the nations 3rd ranking in circulation numbers, there were no separate stories about the opening of the health care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. It was mentioned in one headline in connection with the shutdown. Damn near all other headlines were about the shutdown.
At the number one in circulation Wall St. Journal, again nothing above the fold, but you can scroll far down to the “health” box for three stories about the ACA exchanges debut. Credit the L.A. Times (4th in circulation), however, with one interesting barely above-the-fold headline and sub-head, “Lazarus: GOP will stop at nothing to deny Obama his due on healthcare reform: The outlandish rhetoric over the Affordable Care Act has nothing to do with healthcare or the role of government. It’s about not giving Obama credit for it.”
I didn’t survey broadcast media, But the top morning political talk show, Morning Joe, Mika Brzezinsk tried to give the ACA exchanges debut a plug in their lede, but was quickly smothered by a tsunami of predictable jabber about the shutdown. UPDATE: ‘Morning Joe’ did provide a short segment on the ACA exchanges featuring progressive commentators later in the program.
MSN.com, a top home web page in terms of hits, did feature “Glitches or not, health exchanges are here” above the fold, but nothing on the ACA exchange roll-out in the 9 larger-type rotating headlines.
Wingnut media strategists are no doubt slapping high fives at spoiling the debut of the health exchanges, which, on a normal day would have gotten most of the headlines and ledes, encouraging people to sign up. The Republican strategy was to use the temporary shutdown to shrink the number of enrollees on the important first day. Mission accomplished, although we will have to wait until a tally is completed to get some inkling of how successful they were.
The hope for ACA supporters is that the shutdown will backfire, as seems likely according to recent polls, and hurt Republicans in 2014. See, for example, this just-released report, “American Voters Reject GOP Shutdown Strategy 3-1, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; Dems Up 9 Points in 2014 Congressional Races.”
But the Republicans are counting, not without reason, on the short memory of the electorate and a whole different set of voter concerns a year from now. The other hope for the ACA is that the benefits of the law will increasingly sink in and enrollment figures will improve significantly in the months ahead.
Boehner and the GOP leaders calculated that they would get bad press for a few days before they cut a deal, and that it was a small price to pay for damaging the Obamacare health exchanges grand opening. All would be forgotten when voters go to the polls 13 months from now. It’s up to Dems to prove them wrong.

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