After Republicans have been promising seven long years to remove the metastasizing malignancy that is Obamacare, GOP messaging guru Frank Luntz suddenly thinks it’s a good idea to “repair” the program instead of repealing it.
This new approach is so politically tone-deaf it hurts. Repealing Obamacare is now part of the Republican identity. Not a single Republican in Congress voted to create it and opposition to it has brought the GOP a series of historic electoral triumphs.
“Repairing” Obamacare, which devours more and more of our freedoms and economy every day, is absolutely, positively nuts. Seeking repair of Obamacare legitimizes the atrocity.
Luntz is a leading advocate of the appeasement mentality that guarantees Republicans defeat. He may experience occasional flashes of brilliance, but he is an unsteady ally. He understands the power of narratives and is a good storyteller, but too often he is overcome by cowardice in the face of the enemy. If Donald Trump had listened to Luntz’s advice during the campaign, President Hillary Clinton would have been sworn in on Jan. 20.
To Luntz the “right words” that don’t hurt feelings on the Left somehow clear a path to victory. It’s as if the man actually believes walking on eggshells around left-wingers and rewarding them for their temper tantrums works. These people regularly attack Republicans and conservatives as “deplorables,” racists, sexists, homophobes, Islamophobes, enemies of the poor, and whatever epithet is popular that day.
Using the “right words,” as the Words That Work author and pollster frequently recommends, doesn’t work on the Left’s hive-mind.
But that didn’t stop Luntz from convincing Republican lawmakers at their closed-door policy retreat in Philadelphia last week to begin characterizing their legislative push as an effort to “repair” the Affordable Care Act instead of saying they want to “repeal and replace” it.
The word repair “captures exactly what the large majority of the American people want,” Luntz told Bloomberg News.
“The public is particularly hostile about skyrocketing costs, and they demand immediate change,” he continued. “Repair is a less partisan but no less action-oriented phrase that Americans overwhelmingly embrace.”
Lawmakers must have swallowed this nonsense because repair has been rearing its head a lot since the Philly gathering.
“Our goal is to repair the damage caused by Obamacare where we find damage,” Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said at the beginning of a hearing last week.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) hopped on the repair bandwagon at the same hearing. “Regardless of who was elected president, we were going to have to do major repairs on the Affordable Care Act.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) took repair out for a spin as well but couldn’t part with repeal and replace.
“We’ve been working with the administration on a daily basis to map out and plan a very bold and aggressive agenda to make good on our campaign promises and to fix these problems -- to repeal and replace and repair our broken health care system,” Ryan said after the retreat.
On “Fox and Friends” yesterday Ryan made even more of a mess as he tossed his word salad even more. There was a “miscommunication” about the “repair” strategy, he explained.
“So what kind of got going on here is, I’ve got a confluence of words,” he said. “To repair the American health-care system, you have to repeal and replace this law, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Congressional Republicans don’t want to rip Obamacare out by its roots. They never have.
First they said need to win back the House of Representatives from the Democrats in order to repeal Obamacare. In 2010 – just months after Obamacare’s enactment – they took over the House. Then they said they needed to win back the Senate to repeal Obamacare. In 2014 they took over the Senate. Then they said they had to win back the presidency to repeal Obamacare. Wish granted. In a stunning upset victory Republican Donald Trump won the presidency.
Now, even with President Trump firmly ensconced in the White House, Republicans are Capitol Hill are still whining and making lame, stupid excuses for not eliminating the government program that if left alone will transform the country into a full-blown socialist state.
They want to keep it around as a punching bag, viewing it as a way to keep winning elections.
That’s why they passed some 50 useless bills “abolishing” Obamacare but passed up a real opportunity in 2013 to do some damage to it.
They viciously pounded away at Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) when he showed he was serious about taking their electoral piñata away from them. Cruz led a de facto filibuster against Obamacare in 2013 and wanted to use the government shutdown Obama caused to defund Obamacare.
GOP lawmakers attacked Cruz with a vehemence never seen when they do combat with Democrats. These fear-mongers blathered on endlessly about all the terrible things that would supposedly come to pass, playing on their colleagues’ inordinate fear of being blamed for the shutdown.
Luntz happened to be on the right side of the shutdown issue seeing it as a wonderful opportunity to throw a wrench into the Obamacare machinery.
But Luntz is duplicitous. He trashes Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and conservative talk radio in general when not in front of TV cameras. In 2013 when, in Luntz’s words, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was “getting his ass kicked” over his position on immigration, Luntz described talk radio as “really problematic.”
Luntz tried to spin away Rubio’s betrayal of conservatives by supporting so-called comprehensive immigration reform which includes a massive amnesty for illegal aliens.
He's trying to find a legitimate, long-term effective solution to immigration that isn't the traditional Republican approach, and talk radio is killing him. That's what's causing this thing underneath. And too many politicians in Washington are playing coy.
This is not to say that Luntz is entirely bereft of useful advice.
He is credited with wisely counseling Republicans early in the healthcare fight to describe Obamacare as a “government takeover” that will create “death panels.”
This was a brilliant insight that drove the true nature of the misnamed Affordable Care Act home to voters. The ACA began with a partial government takeover of healthcare and as implementation kicks in at various stages, eventually the country gets a single-payer system which constitutes a total government takeover. It was designed that way.
As left-wing economist Paul Krugman admitted in 2013:
The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, is a policy Rube Goldberg device — instead of doing the simple, obvious thing, which would just be to insure everyone, it basically relies on a combination of regulations and subsidies to rope, coddle, and nudge us into a rough approximation of a single-payer system. There were reasons for this, of course, mainly political: a complete displacement of the existing system would have been both too destructive of powerful interests and too radical for voters.
So Luntz was justified in calling it a government takeover.
On the other point, there may not be a panel somewhere that literally sentences patients to death, but under the ACA decisions about who gets life-saving treatment and who doesn’t are made somewhere by bureaucrats. People die because they don’t have sufficient political power to influence the bureaucrats. The metaphor is a good one.
So Luntz was also justified in speaking of death panels, no matter how stridently the liars at PolitiFact insist he isn’t.
But he’s lost his nerve. Now he thinks it’s better to cloud the issue by cowering behind the word repair. He ought to know better.
Fortunately, President Trump seems committed to doing the right thing and slaying the Obamacare beast.
Trump needs to use his bully pulpit to relentlessly provoke and harass the do-nothing Republicans in Congress, blasting them, ridiculing them, shaming them into doing what the American people sent them to Washington to do.
His @POTUS Twitter account should be used to whip lawmakers until they bleed.
And Frank Luntz needs to stop trying to screw things up.