So What’s the Election “About?”

In my rare and health-threatening day of having Fox News on in the background, I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard some conservative gabber excitedly say the elections are now “about” ObamaCare. The base is excited, natch. And ObamaCare does indeed touch on conservative obsessions–e.g., the “welfare” that “socialists” want to give to those people–that the subject the election was previously “about,” monthly jobs reports and GDP indicators, doesn’t quite arouse.

But is that a smart strategy? And is Mitt Romney, who has all but lobotomized himself, his staff and surrogates to prevent presentation of anything other than the pure economic referendum message, on board?

On the first question, sure ObamaCare is unpopular. But as we should all understand by now, when you add together the people who support ACA with those who think the federal government should go a lot further to reform the system, it’s a fairly sizable majority. Then there’s the fact that the GOP’s own “thinking” on health care ranges from the unpopular to the unworkable to the disastrous. Is a big national debate over health reform–particularly since Democrats may have actually learned a thing or two about how to market reform, and because popular parts of ACA are now being implemented–a slam dunk for Republicans? Hard to say.

And then there’s Mitt. Those who watched his statement on the Court’s decision today may have notice that he wasn’t on board with the Tax! Tax! Tax! message other GOPers were articulating, and also that he seemed to be going to great lengths to tie ACA to the economy. As Paul Waldman points out today, an ACA debate also brings Romney’s own flip-flop back up in a big way, just when he thought he had that problem in his rear-view window.

But it’s not clear to me that Romney is going to be able to suppress the desire of conservatives to rant about ObamaCare 24/7. You may recall that in 2008 wingnut activists got so frustrated with John McCain’s refusal to talk about Jeremiah Wright and ACORN that they started disrupting his events. I think we can look forward to a lot more of that if Mitt tries to “get back on message” and talk monotonously about economic indicators when his audiences want him to whup up on the godless babykilling socializers who want to take Medicare away from hardworking Americans in order to help those people.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.