Scott Brown's stunning upset victory in Massachusetts—a state that hadn't elected a Republican senator since 1972 and that previously sported an all-blue Congressional delegation—means the brief, disastrous era of a one-party lock on Washington's levers of power is over. When Coakley left Massachusetts last week for a last-minute, lobbyist-packed high-dollar fundraiser here in Washington, she reportedly said: “If I don't win, 2010 is going to be hell for Democrats.” It’s one of the few things she got right. Democrats, welcome to hell.
Senator-elect Brown didn’t win a low-turnout, stealth campaign while voters sat home. He turned Massachusetts upside-down in a high-stakes, high-profile, and ultimately high-turnout race with a decisive outcome. The biggest policy implication is on health care. If Obama’s left-wing health care plan gets shot down so clearly in one of the most left-wing states in this nation, the plan should be forever grounded.
It wasn’t just a blame game when the Coakley campaign sent a memo blaming their loss (preemptively, hours before the polls closed, by the way) on Obama’s tax hikes: “Brown labeled President Obama's health care and cap-and-trade plans as tax increases. Polling throughout the race showed this to be the most effective attack on Coakley.”
With the Democrats squeaking the health care bill through the Senate without a vote to spare, the Massachusetts vote on Tuesday was a clear referendum on the Democratic plan. Obama, Reid, and Pelosi have largely ignored the most pressing issue on America’s minds—job creation—in favor of advancing a health care bill with no Republican support. Brown elevated the core economic issues people care about and ran a positive, winning campaign on lower taxes and limited government.
Democratic leaders have already signaled they will do everything possible to continue their political kamikaze mission to pass a wildly unpopular health care bill at all costs. The Democratic spin started days ago, with discussions of all the ways they can ignore the voters and pass their health care bill anyway. They may rush a new backroom deal through both the House and Senate, leaving the heads of the American people spinning as it sneaks through before Brown can be sworn into office. Pelosi may try to force House Democrats to simply swallow the Senate bill as is, despite the fact that many in her caucus have publicly pledged to oppose Senate language on abortion and other issues. They may opt for the “nuclear option” of slipping health care into a budget reconciliation bill that doesn’t require 60 votes.
In theory these all sound like possibilities. In reality, absent a political mass-suicide on a previously unknown scale, there is no will to pursue any of them. Too many Democrats in the House and Senate were already skittish about their reelection prospects. In light of the stunning Massachusetts upset, even the supposedly safe Democrats now have to think again. We now have very real evidence that voters in nearly any state will, if given the chance, vote against the Democratic plans to take over health care. Against a one-party town in which left-wing Democrats control the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives.
Conventional wisdom was that Martha Coakley would coast to an automatic victory in a state with a 3-to-1 Democratic registration advantage. She seemed to declare victory after the primary and stop campaigning. She made a lot of other mistakes. But the huge wave of public anger over tone-deaf one-party Democratic rule in general, and the hated health care bill in particular, may have wiped her out even if she had run a much more vigorous campaign. There are no safe seats now, and if Democrats want to salvage the rest of the 2010 election cycle they would be well-served to admit the public isn’t buying what they’re selling on health care.
If the Democrats drop health care and focus 2010 on job creation and taming out-of-control spending and debt, they may be able to dampen the anger from voters for wasting all of 2009 on their crazy health care crusade. Obama, Reid, and Pelosi have shown no inclination to do that, but they may have no choice. They can try to throw rank-and-file Democrats under the bus, but politically endangered members—now swelling in numbers—are not likely to consent to getting rolled over. Now that Senator-elect Brown has exposed the Democratic health care bill as an unambiguous political loser, I expect it to collapse. Good.
Mr. Kerpen is vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity and policy director for its Patients First health care project. He can be contacted through PhilKerpen.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook. His free two-minute Podcast is available daily.