Paying The Price For The Healthcare Fiasco

Tony Quinn
Editor, California Target Book

The next question in the fight over healthcare is what price will Republicans pay at the polls for this fiasco.  Some folks think angry conservatives will punish the moderates who refused to repeal Obamacare, but the more likely political consequence is defeat for those vulnerable Republicans who voted for this unpopular bill in the House.  Chief among those will be the seven of 14 California House members whose districts Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.

All seven are now Democratic targets in 2018, even those in formerly safe districts.  Take Rep Ed Royce, 65, the Fullerton Republican in his 25th year in Congress. Never has his district been anything but safe Republican, until 2016 that is.  Over this decade the GOP’s registration advantage has fallen from eight points to just 1.7 percent, and even more ominous was Hillary Clinton eight point victory margin in 2016, while the overlapping State Senate seat was going from Republican to Democratic.

Royce serves as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee where he is well respected and close to the leadership.  He often appears on news programs to explain detailed and tough issues in foreign policy.  There is nothing in his record that would suggest he is ripe for defeat.

But he is, thanks to rapidly changing demographics in his district and the man in the White House, Donald Trump, who received only 43 percent in this one time safe Republican district.  And even worse for Royce is the opposition he has attracted, starting with Gil Cisneros, who heads a philanthropic organized he and his wife founded after he won $255 million in the Mega Millions lottery in 2010.

According to the California Target Book, Cisneros was a shipping and distribution manager for Frito Lay at the time of his lottery win and now is a member of the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  He was appointed by President Obama; nothing like $255 million to win you a better set of friends.

In his announcement, Cisneros cited Royce’s vote for the House Obamacare repeal bill as his reason for running.  That all seven vulnerable Republican voted for the bill is hard to fathom, although may have had to do with internal House politics and a desire not to embarrass House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield.

But it is hard to imagine a worse vote.  The bill had less than 20 percent approval in the polls when it passed, the CBO score said it would throw many millions off their insurance while giving a huge tax break to the upper income.  After it passed, President Trump called the bill “mean”; the hit pieces against Royce and the others all but write themselves.

The other three Orange-San Diego County Republicans are in varying stages of vulnerability.  Rep Darrell Issa of Vista was something of an Inspector Javert in his pursuit of Obama as House Oversight Committee chair.  His voters seem not to have liked that; he nearly lost his formerly safe GOP seat in 2016, and it looks like he will face an even tougher challenge in 2018.  One of his opponents has already raised $616,000.

Just to the north along the Orange County coast is the district of long time maverick Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher.  He is something of a modern day Vito Marcantonio.  Those who remember Richard Nixon’s pursuit of Communists will recall that the Communist Marcantonio was Stalin’s guy in Congress in the late 1940s, as the pro-Russian Rohrabacher is thought to be Putin’s guy in Congress today.  He already has eight announced opponents.

Rep. Mimi Walters, who represents central Orange County, already has five declared Democratic opponents.  However, she may be in the least trouble of any Orange County Republicans as her district still has a hefty Republican registration edge, and Clinton carried her district with under 50 percent of the vote while Walters won re-election in 2016 with 59 percent.

There is an argument that none of these Republicans will really be in trouble because the House healthcare bill never became law.  But that is not how politics works.  In 1993, in his first year in office, Bill Clinton proposed a huge fuel tax increase that he pushed through the House.  Senators rebelled against it and it died in the Senate.  Nevertheless, Democrats were clobbered for their votes for the fuel tax and lost 54 seats in the House in 1994, ushering in the first Republican House of Representatives in 40 years.

There is a final issue that could sink these four Republicans as well as many others throughout California: the top of the ticket.  In 2016, California’s top two primary allowed two Democrats to run for the US Senate.  If in 2018 only Democrats are running against each other for the top statewide offices, the turnout could be devastating for Republicans on the same ballot.  Why would Republican voters come out to vote if the contest for governor is just two Democrats striving to see which one is more in favor of transgender bathrooms and sanctuary cities?

Republicans have ten months before the next primary and more than a year before the next general election to turn things around, and much can happen in that time.  But the current direction of the debate in Washington, as well as the situation on the ground in California, suggests a very bleak 2018 for the GOP.

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