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Thursday, December 8, 2016

In an interview with a reporter last month, Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) “accidentally” made complimentary remarks about the Affordable Care Act, routinely known as Obamacare. (His campaign aides claim he misunderstood the question.) Some analysts say those remarks were among the missteps that have left the senator in danger of defeat as he faces a primary runoff against a Tea Party upstart, Chris McDaniel.

It’s possible that Cochran was confused when he told The Washington Post that the ACA “is an example of an important effort by the federal government to help make health care available, accessible and affordable.” It’s also possible that he committed the standard political gaffe as commentator Michael Kinsley defined it years ago: “… when a politician tells the truth — some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.”

Either way, Cochran’s comments are a reminder of a pronounced shift among Republican politicians discussing Obamacare on the campaign trail. Few of them are delivering feisty denunciations and declarations of repeal, as they did just a few months ago. Even in deeply conservative states, Republicans are muting their rhetoric, acknowledging positive tenets of the ACA and engaging in equivocation — or, in some cases, fabrication — to cover their tracks.

That’s because the political terrain has shifted beneath their feet. In practice, as its proponents have long predicted, the ACA has helped millions of people to obtain health care they would not have been able to afford otherwise. Surely it’s no surprise that few voters want to give up benefits they have just begun to enjoy.

That has meant some less-than-artful dodging by such indefatigable partisan warriors as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. In keeping with the GOP script, McConnell has been adamant about repealing the ACA.