This was supposed to be Jim DeMint’s moment. As head of the Heritage Foundation, chief sponsor of Heritage Action, and founder of the Senate Conservatives Fund, he had positioned himself as the Lex Luthor of American politics, a schemer who—with the help of like-minded ideologues like Texas Senator Ted Cruz—had whipped conservatives into a frenzy. With their control of the House of Representatives, and the debt ceiling and the continuing resolution, they would defund the Affordable Care Act, and land a mortal blow to the legacy of Barack Obama.
Strategic recklessness aside, the chief problem with the plan was that it needed a weak, feckless opposition. But Obama and the Democrats wouldn’t oblige. They held their ground, and when it became clear they would make no concessions, the scheme fell apart.
But rather than concede and move on, DeMint has redoubled his efforts to dislodge the president’s health-care law. To wit, in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, he announced he will “continue to fight” to “protect the American people from the harmful effects of the law.”
The obvious question is, “why?” Not only has the public voiced its intense dissatisfaction with the push to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but there’s the tiny issue of elections: We’re not even a year removed from the results of the last contest, where a solid majority of voters reelected Obamacare’s namesake.
“But aha!”, says (my imagined) DeMint, teeth bared in a mischievous grin. “The public didn’t endorse Obamacare at all!” Or, as he writes in the op-ed, “Obamacare was not the central fight in 2012, much to the disappointment of conservatives. Republicans hoped that negative economic news would sweep them to victory, and exit polls confirmed that the economy, not health care, was the top issue. The best thing is to declare last year’s election a mistrial on Obamacare.”
A “mistrial?” The only way to call the 2012 election a mistrial on the Affordable Care Act is to ignore the 2012 election.
To wit, Mitt Romney kicked off his general-election campaign with an ad that detailed his plans for day one of his administration. In his first 24 hours, President Romney would approve the Keystone Pipeline project, cut taxes, and repeal Obamacare.
Over the next six months, Romney would talk about the first two items on that agenda, but he would focus on the third one. From his stump speeches, to his ads, to his address at the Republican National Convention, Romney was clear on his plans for the president’s health-care law: “We must rein in the skyrocketing cost of health care by repealing and replacing Obamacare.” He did the same in the days before the election, telling an audience in Wisconsin that—on his first day in office—he would issue waivers that would “begin to repeal” the Affordable Care Act.
The notion that the law was ancillary to last year’s contest is ridiculous. If there was anything that anyone was certain to take away from the election, it was Romney’s commitment to repealing Obamacare, and the president’s commitment to defending it. DeMint’s op-ed, in other words, is a load of nonsense. The public understood what it was doing when it reelected Obama; it was—among other things—giving him a chance to implement his health-care law.
Indeed, not only was the president given a second term in the White House, but Democrats retained their hold on the Senate, and won a majority of votes cast in House elections. It’s tough to read elections as a referendum on ideology, but one thing is certain: The public rejected the Republican Party and its direction for the country. And if DeMint has done anything with his anti-Obamacare stunts, he’s made it more likely that voters make the same judgment in 2014.