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In one of my previous pieces, I put forward the idea that the healthcare bill championed by Mitch McConnell was a huge political miscalculation. Since then, the bill was put on the back burner for a lack of votes and the social media and actual media response has been brutal at a minimum.
It's hard not to see McConnell's choice to move forward with a wildly unpopular bill as anything but an error, especially now. But it's worth looking at the functional effects of even trying to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with a piece of legislation designed to strip coverage from tens of millions while simultaneously redistributing taxes paid by the poor toward the rich.
Namely: trying to snatch a healthcare safety net from millions of Americans has the same effect on voter drive and engagement as actually doing it.
The GOP bill is bad. Its CBO scorecard made international news for the wide, deep, and pervasive damage it would cause in American society. The cuts to Medicaid alone would have killed thousands within the first year. That's not hyperbole, but basic logic. Poor people who rely on Medicaid for live-saving medicine and treatments would be either out of the program or receive too little aid to matter. For those facing life-threatening conditions from diabetes--think not having the coverage to get insulin--to cancer, these reductions would very much be a death sentence. There are a few large studies floating around academia whose conclusions are in line with this. When you cut the funding of an essential, life-saving service by X dollars, Y number of people will suffer, then die.
The problem the GOP has right now is that even trying to pass a draconian bill that will kill or ruin the lives of thousands to millions of citizens has the same functional effect of actually passing it. People, despite what seems like a mountain of damning evidence to the contrary, are generally good. Great majorities will stand up for some kind of basic human decency when confronted by realities too stark to ignore. A sizable minority (the Republican base, generally) generally seem exempt from this rule.
Passing the bill would have disastrous real-world consequences, mostly in lives lost and misery increased. We saw McConnell and his toadies march us right up to that cliff. We saw the hard, sharp rocks below. As a nation, we glanced down the maw of the chasm and in that instant many of us understood the hard reality of the sudden stop waiting at the bottom.
Did everyone instinctively take a step back from the precipice? No. Of course not. But seeing what could still come to pass has had the same effect on independent, moderate, left, and liberal voters as actually seeing the bill become law. It has hardened resistance--again, which seems to grow stronger every time the GOP touches the healthcare debate in the Trump era--and fires up new chunks of the electorate. The GOP's dogged insistence on choosing the healthcare hill to die on reliably and predictably brings in new bodies to the resistance against their agenda.
Look at the recent special elections. Heavily red GOP districts saw a better than 15% swing toward Democrats, making what should have been non-contests into nail-biting squeakers. Activists on the left have expressed dismay that Ossoff and others lost their races, while those with a more data-driven outlook on electoral contests see the huge swings toward the left as a deeply encouraging sign going forward.
And that's the thing: as long as the GOP keeps trying to enact an agenda that will harm countless Americans, the resistance to that agenda will only grow in size and harden its resolve. Every day in which the party doesn't utterly rebuke Donald Trump, more people on the political right lose the will to continue their support (admittedly slowly) while the number of engaged activists on the political left only increases.
The healthcare bill is only one of many such examples we've seen in the Trump age. We've witnessed the single largest civil rights march in history. We see citizens and states relentlessly speak out and sue to defend civil rights threatened by the many attempts at a travel ban. Time and again, the GOP and their puppet king find their reach exceeding their grasp, and every time their attempt draws new blood into the party directly opposing them.
When everything you do emboldens your enemies whether you're successful or not, you're left with very few options. In this case, just one.
The only defense the GOP has is to do nothing at all. Which, given the ferocious energy of their base built on eight years of slandering Barack Obama and his every policy, seems like an impossible task. The reason McConnell felt like he had to tackle this bill is because his base has become a monster of his party's own creation. The leadership felt it needed to show some progress on the years of repeal promises they ran on.
McConnell misjudged the situation, as did most of the party leadership. The worst of that momentum broke itself on the 2016 election. The rest could have been managed with careful messaging.
Instead, McConnell and the other GOP members of congress decided to take a series of hard swings. That each of them has come back to hit them in the face to some degree doesn't seem to slow them at all.