Once is chance, twice is coincidence, third time is a pattern: Obamacare is off the GOP primary table

After the first Republican debate back in August, I wrote a piece over at healthinsurance.org titled "Has FOX News surrendered on Obamacare?" in which I noted that the ACA, which had been a near obsession on the part of the GOP for over 5 years, was barely mentioned:

In short, from what I can gather, the Affordable Care Act …

… the law which has consumed 99 percent of the Republican Party’s attention for the past 6 years or so …
… the law which has survived over 50 repeal attempts …
… the law which recovered from an unprecedented epic technical meltdown …
… the law which survived a federal government shutdown designed specifically to destroy it …
… the law which survived hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Koch Brothers attack ads …
… the law which survived two major Supreme Court decisions …

… proved to be worth perhaps three minutes of total airtime and discussion out of nearly four hours of Republican Party Presidential debate.

This was all the more astonishing given that the first GOP debate was hosted and moderated by FOX News, of all outlets.

At the time, I focused on the fact that the moderators (all FOX pundits, of course) barely brought the ACA up at all in either the "Kiddy Table" or the Main Event.

After the second GOP debate, I noted that once again, Obamacare was barely to be seen:

Again, out of 4 hours of questions, none of the CNN panelists asked a single question about the Affordable Care Act itself, and beyond boilerplate "I'll repeal it if elected" responses from a few candidates, it barely merited any time at all.

Hell, according to a friend of mine who watched all of it, even John Kasich's expansion of Medicaid in Ohio was a non-issue this time:

@charles_gaba No and he even mentioned it unproblematically.

— emptywheel (@emptywheel) September 17, 2015

UPDATE: OK, here's the transcript of the 2nd "Main Event" debate...and as you can see, I was correct: "Obamacare" mentioned 10 times, and once again, every instance was either a generic checklist or in response to the SCOTUS appointment question. Even Kasich's single mention of Medicaid was actually part of a response to a question about defunding Planned Parenthood.

As a side note: The ACA was only brought up briefly at the first Democratic debate as well (mostly in the context of whether undocumented immigrants should receive exchange subsidies or not, as California recently allowed for undocumented children to do)...but this is less surprising since all of the Democratic candidates either support the ACA or, in the case of Bernie Sanders, don't think it goes nearly far enough).

Well, guess what? Tonight was the third Republican debate--and one which was supposedly going to be all about Hard Policy Stuff (it was hosted by CNBC; presumably it was supposed to be the Serious, Wonky Economic debate). I decided to take mercy on myself by not bothering to watch it, but I did follow along via Twitter...and guess what?

So, any mention of #Obamacare AT ALL yet? Anything? #Smartenoughnottoactuallywatch

— Charles Ghooooulba (@charles_gaba) October 29, 2015

@charles_gaba nope. #iwatchsoyoudonthaveto

— julie rovner (@jrovner) October 29, 2015

I followed up later on and determined that once again, Obamacare was MIA (via the full transcript):

  • Carly Fiorina made a false claim at one point that "470,000 businesses are going out of business every year" "due to" Obamacare (um...no).
  • Ted Cruz, in his closing statement, bragged about "rising up against Obamacare" (ie, shutting down the federal government, costing taxpayers $24 billion for no particular reason)
  • John Kasich bragged positively about saving and/or improving Medicaid (remember, he expanded Medicaid in Ohio via the ACA).

That was it.

There was some Obamacare-bashing in the "Kiddy Table" debate earlier in the evening, but none of that came from the moderators, who didn't ask a single question about the ACA in either forum; Jindal and Santorum (and at one point, Pataki) managed to work their Ocare attacks into their responses. Plus, let's be honest: Neither Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki nor Lindsey Graham are going to be the GOP nominee unless something truly astonishing happens. Plus, even the

While the lack of ACA discussion/attacks was surprising the first two times around, I was certain it would be a hot topic tonight for several reasons:

  • 2016 Open Enrollment begins just 4 days from now, on November 1st

Sure, premiums aren't going up nearly as drastically for most people as the naysaysers have been predicting...but they're still a real issue, as are increasing deductibles.

  • 9 of the 23 ACA-created CO-OPs have shut down in the past few months (6 of them in just the past 2 weeks), in addition to the one which closed up shop last year.

Again, it could be strongly argued that it was Congressional Republicans who deliberately sabotaged the CO-OPs via underfunding them and creating the unnecessary Risk Corridor Massacre...but lord knows the fact that 10 CO-OPs have failed (regardless of the cause) should be red meat to the GOP candidates in a primary debate.

Hell, the House GOP is even planning Congressional hearings on the CO-OP debacle in a week or two; they're obviously not terribly concerned about being blamed for causing it.

So yes, the ACA not coming up at all in the 3rd debate is just amazing to me.

Then again, according to PoliticalWire's Taegan Goddard (as well as everyone else on Twitter, it seems), the evening was an unmitigated disaster anyway:

The third Republican presidential debate was a total, unruly mess. The CNBC moderators were mostly unprepared, asked terrible questions and lost control of the debate from the opening minutes. It was an embarrassment.

That said, dealing with stupid questions is a job requirement of the president.