Ohio Gov. John Kasich bills himself as the most electable Republican presidential candidate, and he has some polling to support that contention. But, like 2012 nominee Mitt Romney before him, Kasich is strangling the party’s strongest health care message.
Of the Republicans still in the race, only Sen. Ted Cruz can credibly campaign against Obamacare, the 2010 health care overhaul enacted against unanimous Republican opposition. Reality TV star Donald Trump funded Obamacare’s sponsors and has said nice things about single-payer socialized medicine. Kasich is devoted to Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid.
The law as a whole remains unpopular, with 54 percent opposed and 44 percent in favor. Only 9 percent of Republicans and 39 percent of independents support Obamacare, while 78 percent of Democrats support it.
Obamacare increases health insurance coverage by requiring employers to provide it or individuals to buy it, and adding working-age adults with no kids and no disabilities to Medicaid rolls that were already swamping state budgets before President Barack Obama took office.
“We can’t eliminate this and have tens of millions of Americans without health insurance,” Kasich said when defending Obamacare expansion during a CNN town hall in February. Kasich has traveled the country scolding lawmakers who oppose Medicaid expansion.
Kasich presumes that in a general election, independents and some Democrats would vote for him — and the press would cheer for him — instead of Hillary Clinton, a firm Obamacare supporter who says she won’t allow Republicans to “kick 16 million people off their health coverage.”
Clinton’s health policy message is simple: Obamacare is working and she’ll stop Republicans from ruining it.
Kasich’s message? Not so simple: He’ll repeal Obamacare but won’t take away the Medicaid expansion that is responsible for most Obamacare enrollment. Kasich also supports Obamacare’s requirement that insurers provide coverage regardless of any preexisting health conditions, an economically dubious proposition in the absence of a coverage mandate, which Kasich says he opposes.
“John Kasich is out of step with every congressional Republican and GOP voter,” Michael Cannon, health policy director at the libertarian Cato Institute, told Watchdog.org. Cannon noted that campaigning against Obamacare helped Republicans win big victories in 2010 and 2014.
“Congressional Republicans passed a bill repealing all of ObamaCare’s health insurance subsidies, including Kasich’s beloved Medicaid expansion,” he added. “The likelihood that Republicans will suffer at the polls for it is approximately nil.”
Meanwhile, Kasich — who expanded Medicaid unilaterally to bring Obamacare money to Ohio — warns Republicans not to talk too much about repealing Obamacare, echoing Democrats’ spurious claims that Republicans haven’t proposed serious alternatives.
“When Congress repeals Obamacare for good, it can and should enact reforms that make health care better and more affordable for everyone,” Cannon said. “Kasich evidently wants to save Obamacare, because he is echoing the Obama administration’s nonsensical scare tactics.”
To preserve the Medicaid expansion that he and Clinton both support, Kasich says he would “take some of the federal resources” being spent through Obamacare to keep childless, working-age, able-bodied adults on Medicaid.
In Ohio, more than 673,000 people have enrolled in Kasich’s Obamacare expansion, costing federal taxpayers $7.5 billion. Costs are on track to double Kasich administration projections by 2020.
Kasich’s embrace of Obamacare has always been his presidential campaign’s biggest weakness, as CNN’s Jake Tapper demonstrated last May in an interview when the governor, visibly flustered, misrepresented Obamacare expansion spending as “Ohio money” three separate times.
In 2010, Kasich benefited from an anti-Obamacare wave election, warning that Medicaid expansion would “stick states with large and unsustainable costs.”
This year, Kasich is asking his party to repeat one of its 2012 blunders by picking a nominee who cannot credibly run against the opposition’s least popular program.