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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Begala: Dems Must Flip Script on Obamacare

In “How Democrats can flip the script on Obamacare,” : Greg Sargent shares some insights gleaned from his interview with Democratic strategist Paul Begala:

“We should flip the wording of how we talk about Obamacare,” Begala told me today. “Open on offense, instead of on defense.”
Begala’s advice is rooted in a clear eyed assessment of the real Obamacare problem Dems face. It isn’t just that the law is unpopular with swing voters — yes, disapproval is running high, but repeal is also unpopular, which offers a way to fight disapproval to a draw. The more pressing problem is that Obamacare revs up the GOP base — worsening the “midterm falloff” turnout problem already present in non-presidential years — but it doesn’t excite the Dem base anywhere near enough to offset that problem.
To be clear, that is a very serious issue. But Begala thinks Dems can address it with a simple flipping of the script. Dems now debating how to talk about Obamacare seem to be leading defensively with their willingness to fix the law. Instead, Begala says, they should lead with an attack on Republicans that is framed as a medical rights issue – before pivoting to fixing the law — and then wrap it all up in a larger message about how Republicans have no answers to people’s health care or economic problems.
“We should open by saying, ‘my opponent wants to repeal your rights,'” Begala said. “He wants to take away your right to be protected against discrimination because you have a preexisting condition. He wants to take away your right to be protected against discrimination for being older or being a woman. He wants to take away the closing of the Medicare donut hole for seniors.”
“That’s point one,” he continued. “Then you say, ‘look, I’m open to working with everybody to fix the law. But I’ll never let them go back to the days where insurance companies could send letters saying your coverage has been canceled because you have a preexisting condition.'”

It’s not like Republicans have much of a fallback position, other than demonizing Obamacare. As Begala notes, “Repeal is their whole agenda. They have no ideas for giving you a pay raise. No ideas for raising the minimum wage. No ideas about how to create jobs. No ideas about how to get your kid into pre-K. Their entire agenda as a party is repeal — to take away rights that you have won. I’m not going to let them do that.”…”We can win on Obamacare, but we have to fight.”
Sargent adds that demonizing Obamacare “excites the Republican base far more than the Democratic base, potentially making the “midterm drop-off” even worse.” He argues that Republicans may well double down on the demonization strategy, which invites a Democratic counterattack in a populist context.
Republicans are handicapped by their inability to come up with a comprehensive alternative to Obamacare, Sargent believes. They hope to distract voters with a grab bag of piecemeal alternatives, none of which are particularly compelling. Polls indicate that the public appetite for ‘repeal and replace’ and starting all over again is small and shrinking. Time is not on the ACA demonization strategy’s side. An aggressive counter-attack, reminding voters about the popular provisions of the ACA, while calling out Republicans to flesh out their increasingly vague “alternatives” — just might work.

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