Update: By voting for the so-called skinny repeal bill, Heller has underscored the key points made here.
The intellectually and morally bankrupt process undertaken by the U.S. Senate, with the befuddled but willing participation of Dean Heller, to deliberately deprive people of health insurance so as to satisfy the perpetually aggrieved Republican base, reminds me of this passage:
We will ensure that bills are debated and discussed in the public square by publishing the text online for at least three days before coming up for a vote in the House of Representatives. No more hiding legislative language from the minority party, opponents, and the public. Legislation should be understood by all interested parties before it is voted on.
That’s from something titled “A Pledge to America: A new governing agenda built on the priorities of our nation, the principles we stand for & America’s founding values.” It was a to-do list of policies and promises that Republicans made a “pledge” to follow if they won control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterm elections.
The Republicans of course did win the House in 2010, the Year of the Tea Party. John Ensign, long a Republican stalwart of “America’s founding values,” would not resign in disgrace until the next year, so Heller was still in the House, pledging the profound importance of democratically elected officials adhering to an orderly and transparent process.
Identifying Hellerian hypocrisy is merely tiresome, and that’s not what this is about. He’s not a serious person, and barring hard evidence to the contrary, the proposition that he votes in accordance with what his campaign handler Mike Slanker determines is in Heller’s best political interest seems the most logical explanation for Heller’s behavior. That’s certainly more plausible than any notion that Heller is driven by policy concerns.
There is of course much contemporary crossover between the Tea Party “patriots” Heller sidled up to in 2010 and the aggrieved — always aggrieved — Trump faithful who want Heller to quit screwing around, jettison the legitimate legislative process, get on the stick and just repeal the socialist government takeover imposed on America by the Kenyan usurper.
The hypocrisy of those folks is as routine as Heller’s. But whereas Heller’s reflects mundane political opportunism, the cognitive inconsistency endemic to today’s Republican base is driven by something deeper and more poisonous.
Even before Sarah Palin warned the republic of “death panels,” and people donning tri-cornered hats shook their fists at the sky yelling “keep the government’s hands off my Medicare,” the right’s visceral hatred of the Affordable Care Act had more to do with cultural grievances than health insurance.
These are the folks who think “colleges and universities have a negative effect on the way things are going in the country,” and for whom the overriding political consideration is not the efficacy, benefit or harm of current or prospective policy, but, rather, sticking it to the elites and the establishment and liberals and the “Democrat” party.
These are the folks Heller and his fellow Republicans will be counting on in next year’s midterm elections.
Lake Research garnered some headlines earlier this month for noting a phenomenon with which Nevada is all too familiar: Single women, young people and people of color tend to be Democrats, and too many of them stay home during midterm elections. More than 300,000 of those voters who helped Clinton and Cortez Masto win Nevada in 2016 are projected to stay home in 2018, one of the biggest projected drop-off rates of any state. White people, especially older white people, who tend to be Republicans, are better at showing up to vote in midterms.
Little wonder that Nevada Republicans will make a beeline for the grievance politics and white tribalism that Trump revels in. (Exhibit A: Michael Roberson and his PAC in support of a state constitutional amendment to ban sanctuary cities.)
The candidate’s shambolic performance throughout the ACA repeal effort notwithstanding, Heller and his handlers obviously believe they can still win in 2018. The aggrieved base shows up! But first, that same base has to show up for Heller in a primary. And remember, Heller has already lost one all-important Adelson primary this year, when Adelson’s gofer Adam Laxalt sent Heller scampering from the governor’s race.
Public pressure — the calls to his offices, the protests, the email, the social media bombardment, the press coverage and all the rest — clearly unnerves Heller, who is in way, way over his head. As much if not more than Brian Sandoval’s hand-wringing, a nagging uncertainty over 2018 turnout projections, and the possibility, however slight, that the midterm electorate won’t be as friendly to Republicans as it was in 2010 and 2014, has restrained Heller from doing whatever Mitch McConnell says. That uncertainty in turn is why Heller voted against the ACA repeal he voted for in 2015. So yes, by all means, keep those card and letters coming.
On the other hand, fear of a right-wing base that feels everyone is out to get them is what kept Heller from joining Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and voting against the motion to proceed — a choice that would have effectively stopped repeal in its tracks and maybe even forced Republicans to grow up and work on strengthening the health insurance system instead of blowing it up. And fear of the right-wing base is why Heller may well keep traveling the reckless road of policy and procedural idiocy on which Trump and the Republicans have embarked, and for which Heller did vote.
If and when Heller votes to approve whatever abomination emerges from a House-Senate conference for Trump to sign, he’ll be catering to the gut urge of one group of Americans to hate the other — or “the other,” as the case may be. Rather than taking a step to overcome our poisonous polarization, Heller will be exploiting it for personal political gain.
That’s going to suck for a lot of people who will lose affordable access to health care. And though not nearly as consequential or tragic, it might suck for Heller too, win or lose. After all, a lot has happened in the past few weeks to suggest Heller would be much happier if he decided not to seek reelection, and instead returned to Nevada and got a job at, oh, the Farm Bureau.