Politics, Public Perception, and Health Reform: Analyzing the 2012 Elections

The lunchtime general session at AHIP Institute 2012 on Thursday featured a couple of big name speakers: Paul Begala and Ari Fleischer, both of whom are political analysts for CNN. They spoke to a packed ballroom about the hot topics in healthcare reform and how they see the 2012 Presidential election shaping up.

The lunchtime general session at AHIP Institute 2012 on Thursday featured a couple of big name speakers: Paul Begala and Ari Fleischer, both of whom are political analysts for CNN. The topic of the day was “Politics, Public Perception, and Health Reform: Implications for the 2012 Elections.”

Without question the most entertaining session at this year’s conference, Begala and Fleischer began their opening statements with equal parts political propaganda and playful banter. It was Fleischer who took the stage first, and he began by talking about his unique background. “I came here to make a confession,” he said. “Before I worked on Capitol Hill, I was raised a liberal Democrat.” Of course, many years later, he would become the primary spokesman for President George W. Bush. Sometime in those first few years on the Republican front lines, his parents were interviewed by their local paper about his political profession, and Fleischer playfully told the audience that his mother told the paper “she thought it was just a phase he would grow out of” and that his father said “if he was going to make such a bad decision it could have been worse…he could have been a drug dealer.”

Felischer transitioned into a discussion about the Obama administration, explaining that the reason Obama was elected 4 years ago was because of 3 factors: he was not George W. Bush; people were tired of the Iraq war; and that Obama had captured lightning in a bottle. Now, the President has lost the faith of the people who once believed in him, and because of the struggling economy, he will lose the upcoming election. “Come October, with the economy the way it is, the president’s numbers are going to drop from the bottom and Romney will enjoy a very comfortable win,” predicted Fleischer. “Blame and complain is not a winning slogan.”

Begala introduced himself next and, not to be outdone, had a number of retorts prepared. He likened himself to a mosquito at a nudist colony because every time he follows Fleischer there’s so much fertile land that he doesn’t even know where to begin. He added that Fleischer watches too much of “that Fox news channel,” which is a “comedy channel that pretends to be a news channel.” Begala also touched on the fact that the Republican party started out with so many presidential candidates that they’ll end up beating themselves for not having one standout from the beginning. He did concede, however, that it would be a dead heat of an election.

After the two exchanged playful jabs, they sat down and addressed some questions. Here are some of the highlights.

If the Supreme Court either upholds the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or tosses out the mandate, what does it mean? Who does it benefit? Does it help democrats? Republicans?

Fleischer: If upheld, it will be a smashing success for Obama. If defeated, it’s going to be a huge win for Mitt Romney and will be a setback for the Democratic base. They’ll say that the President doesn’t know the Constitution and that he was wrong.

Begula: Politically speaking, regarding healthcare, you win on defense, but this is trench warfare circa World War I. If it gets thrown out it will be terrible for the President, but politically it would rally his base for the next 180 days.

Begula added that, because the Supreme Court has more conservatives (5 to 4), that the ACA will be killed.

What do you say to the people who say the electoral roadmap is still not in Romney’s favor and that he has to pick up swing states? Some state that there are 5 different road maps Obama can pursue to reelection. Is Romney Facing the uphill battle that some suggest?

Fleischer: Every election presents new facts. The biggest factor of any election is message and the message of this election is economics. Mitt Romney won’t talk about anything but economics. He is honed in on economics. Obama is running a campaign on social issues -- gay marriage, immigration, contraception for women, anything but the economy -- and that’s what this race will test.

Begala: I do believe Obama starts with every state [John] Kerry carried and that those states are more democratic than they were 8 years ago. Of the 9 he picked up, he will lose Indiana and drop a couple others. The distortion of the electoral college works for Obama.

Following these questions, Fleischer touched on certain key demographics that the Republican party needed to work on swaying. “Republicans have a problem with the Hispanic vote. If the trend continues it will be worrisome for Republicans.” He added that if neither party had gender or racial gaps that every election would end in a tie, and that, for this upcoming election, the issue of the economy was going to trump all other factors and therefore minimize the importance of side issues.

Following that discussion Begala spoke about the importance of the Vice Presidential nomination, saying that it is of the utmost importance that the selected candidate be qualified and that it should never be an issue of trying to secure a few extra votes. He reminded the audience that only 42 people have ever been President of the United States, and that 9 of them did because the President died.

In the end, both were asked to make a prediction. One year from now, who will be in office, what would happen to the ACA, and who would control Congress. Both sides gave a predictable answer by selecting their parties, but surprisingly, both also believe that the ACA will not be passed.

One thing was overwhelmingly clear: Fleischer and Begala were very thankful that AHIP was being run by Karen Ignagni, and both commended her. “Karen can speak to both sides with equal credibility and respect and that is a rare thing,” said Begala.