This fall, long before Christie has to navigate the narrow-mindedness of his party’s nomination process or attempt to sell the nation on his straight talk, two intangibles will begin to play themselves out: the election of Lautenberg’s successor, and the implementation of Obamacare. Chances are that Cory Booker or some other Democrat will be elected to the Senate in the special election on October 16th, and should any legislative battle come down to a single vote, it will be a reminder to the GOP of Christie’s missed opportunity to appoint a Republican to fill the entire unexpired portion of Lautenberg’s term. That same month, the insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act will go online. This is where uninsured individuals, families and small businesses will go to shop for coverage and rates. In a best-case scenario, they’ll be the equivalent of Orbitz.com for health insurance. More likely, the initiation of a mammoth new government program will bring hiccups at the onset, as Penn’s Zeke Emanuel recently forecast in the Wall Street Journal:
“Setting up the exchanges will pose a host of technological challenges, such as digitally linking an individual’s IRS information (which determines a subsidy level) to the insurance offerings in the individual’s home area and to employment data—while simultaneously factoring in Medicaid eligibility. Bugs in the computer software are bound to pop up, and the quality of the user experience will undoubtedly need improvement.”
Any such “bugs” that combine people’s access to health care and their finances could be the equivalent of the recent IRS 501(c)4 scandal on steroids, just in time for the Tea Party to reenergize its base in 2014. Americans may well come to love Obamacare the way they now support Medicare, but it’s doubtful that affinity will mature by 2014. Instead, Republicans will get an added bump in what should already be a strong year for the GOP. Since 1950, the party of a president in his second term has almost always lost the midterm elections. (The exception was 1998, under Bill Clinton.)
The impact on Christie? Against the backdrop of the implementation of Obama-care, we are probably headed for the third national election in a row where the economy and health care are the dominant issues. While there will be stories about previously uninsured individuals now obtaining coverage, and those with preexisting conditions now being protected, and young adults able to stay on their parents’ plans, they could be outweighed by Drudge Report anecdotes concerning the release of personal information into the wrong hands that will be hyped, Benghazi-style, by the right to drive the GOP base in 2014, à la 2010. A big win for the GOP in the midterms will then give conservative stalwarts a case of beer muscles just in time for the 2016 primary process. Their takeaway? Stay the conservative course with a true believer like Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, not a Northeastern RINO like Chris Christie.
And that’s just what Hillary Clinton is counting on.