When will the name “Jon Gruber” fade from US headlines? Democrats hope that moment comes soon, preferably yesterday. But that’s not likely to happen, as Republicans continue to gleefully exploit Mr. Gruber’s unintentionally incendiary comments about the design and 2010 passage of the big health care law.
At this point, the GOP probably wants to change the nickname of the Affordable Care Act from “Obamacare” to “Grubercare.” Republican strategists are clear that they’ll try and make the MIT economist a symbol of pretty much everything they dislike about the ACA.
“[The White House] is probably going to try and make this just about Gruber, but we are not [going] to let it be just about Gruber,” said GOP strategist Karl Rove during a Monday Fox News appearance.
“Every single major promise used to sell the Affordable Care Act has turned out to be wrong and more importantly ... health economists and other experts knew it was wrong at the time,” said Mr. Rove.
If you haven’t followed this dispute that closely, here’s the background: Gruber is an MIT economist who was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars as a consultant and plan designer during the ACA’s planning period. Last week a year-old video surfaced of him saying Obamacare passed due to the “stupidity of the American voter” and “lack of transparency” about its funding provisions.
Since then there’s been a steady stream of more videos of Gruber making impolitic remarks. First there was one, then two, then six. As right-leaning commentator Ed Morrissey noted today at Hot Air, “We may already have gotten to the point where numbers have run past their usefulness in identifying Jonathan Gruber’s serial revelations.”
For instance, there’s the video where Gruber, who was also an architect of the Massachusetts state health plan signed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney, says that Romneycare was a way to “rip off” the federal government to the tune of $400 million a year. There’s the one where he describes meeting President Obama, who was very interested in how to make the bill more politically palatable. And there’s the appearance where he talked about “mislabeling” the bill’s tax on expensive Cadillac health plans, to disguise the number of people it would eventually affect.
Eventually these revelations will stop. Then the political Twitterverse will move to another topic.
“Most of the time, what ‘everybody’ is talking about disappears into nothingness incredibly quickly,” wrote Bloomberg View political expert Jonathan Bernstein last week in arguing that the Gruber-gate changes pretty much nothing.
We agree with Mr. Bernstein that gaffes, even famous ones such as candidate Romney’s “47 percent” video, almost always disappear with little trace, like leaves in the wind.
But Gruber’s gaffes might stick around and have more resonance than most.
For one thing, the roll-out seems planned. A GOP insurance executive watched a huge amount of video to compile Gruber’s slips. Now they’re being carefully doled out in a manner that keeps the story going. Coincidence? We think not.
For another, the GOP seems intent on making Gruber a symbol of something larger. Liberals are disdainful of the non-Ivy League attending little people, and Gruber shows it, say many right-leaning commentators. That will make him a useful rallying cry at Republican conventions to come.
“Thank you, Jonathan Gruber. We now know how the Obama left sees the American people. We are like children who don’t understand what is best for us,” writes former George W. Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen today in The Washington Post.
And that’s an argument that could cement in place a major recent change in the Republican Party’s institutional image. For the first time since 2011, the GOP’s approval rating is now higher than that of its Democratic counterpart, according to Gallup. It’s 42 percent positive for Republicans, 36 percent positive for Democrats.
Mentioning “Gruber” as often as possible may be one way for the Republican National Committee to try and maintain that relative position.
“After the 2012 election, many political analysts focused on the GOP’s ‘image problem.’ Now, it is the Democrats who appear to have the more battered image,” writes Gallup’s Andrew Dugan.