This evening features the opening battle of the 2018 midterm wars, with the Democrats desperately trying to retake Congress from the GOP. The two second-place finishers in the 2016 presidential primaries, Democratic-caucusing U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Tea Party U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), are debating the future of American healthcare on CNN. Both up for re-election in 2018, Sanders and Cruz represent the hardline wings of their respective parties: Sanders is a left-wing idealist who espouses democratic socialism, and Cruz is a right-wing traditionalist with a rebellious streak.
Sanders wants the federal government to provide basic healthcare for all citizens, creating a single-payer system similar to those in Western Europe. Cruz wants to slash government spending and push through a Constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget, meaning less money for healthcare. To Sanders’ supporters, basic healthcare should be a public good. To Cruz’ backers, the free market is the only rational way to provide Americans with high-quality healthcare and let patients choose what works for them.
When CNN puts these two titans on the stump, don’t expect either man to pull any punches. Why it matters is that the impending repeal of the Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as Obamacare, has gone from being a “done deal” by the GOP to a new political firestorm. A recent surge of anger toward the repeal has made some Republican legislators leery, with conservative congressmen now calling for an Obamacare replacement to be finalized before gutting the original law.
With the Republican Party in disarray over the prospect of actually having to replace the Affordable Care Act, the stage is ripe for any new proposals to gain popularity. Worried voters, no matter who they supported last November, are up for grabs. Many Trump voters, after all, rely on the ACA for their health insurance. Those who voted for Donald Trump solely out of disdain for Hillary Clinton may have thought that Republicans would never actually try to dismantle Obamacare…and are now facing buyer’s remorse.
The CNN debate is the perfect opportunity for Bernie Sanders to push the idea of universal health care, luring voters to cast ballots for Democrats in the 2018 midterms and beyond. Terrified at the prospect of Trump and his congressional minions re-privatizing most of U.S. healthcare, liberal voters may vow to turn out in record numbers in upcoming elections at all levels of government. With government-subsidized healthcare under attack, liberals and moderates may finally be motivated to fight hard to “lock in” the single payer healthcare system enjoyed by most other industrialized nations.
But Ted Cruz has his own chances to shine. With Trump looking like a buffoonish train wreck before the global media, the Republican Party needs someone to play the grown-up voice of reason. Cruz, undoubtedly still stinging from his upset loss in the presidential primaries, has the perfect chance to position himself as the 2020 Republican primary alternative to Donald Trump. Although it is unlikely for an incumbent president to not receive his party’s nomination for a second term, such a scenario has happened before.
If Trump’s Oval Office performance does not improve, he might find himself in a 2020 position even weaker than Gerald Ford in 1976, when Ford the incumbent almost lost the Republican nomination to California Governor Ronald Reagan.
Cruz, if he can put Sanders on the ropes in this CNN healthcare debate, will automatically be positioned as the Republican alternative to Donald Trump. His ability to effectively argue for free market health care will make him the conservative champion of the Senate and earn him the gratitude of most Republicans in Congress. Landing some serious blows against Sanders would also invigorate the GOP base, which has had to contend with countless sneers that Trump would have been badly beaten by the Vermont Democratic Socialist.
Sanders won’t make it easy for Cruz to score points, though: It is possible that Sanders sees this debate as his best chance to put away potential Democratic rival Cory Booker. Booker, a fellow U.S. Senator from New Jersey, has irked many liberals by voting against Sanders’ recent proposal to allow low-cost prescription medication into the U.S. from Canada. Often touted as a future presidential candidate in the mold of Barack Obama, Booker’s greatest weakness may be his tendency to vote in support of Big Pharma.
If Bernie Sanders can score points for his bold brand of single payer healthcare in the CNN debate, he can substantially diminish Cory Booker’s chances of pushing him aside in 2020.
Both personally and party-wise, the stakes are extremely high. If Sanders wins the debate, which is likely, he will strengthen moderate opposition to any Republican plans to dismantle Obamacare. Republicans in liberal and moderate states, fearing their own re-election chances, will begin foot-dragging on the Obamacare repeal, perhaps even dooming the initiative entirely. If Cruz wins the debate, he will make the Republican Party’s privatized health care plans more palatable to nervous moderates and liberals and give the Party a viable 2020 alternative to a failed Donald Trump.
In the end, the data favors a Sanders victory: With the United States remaining one of the few holdouts from single payer healthcare, and facing bad healthcare metrics compared to its industrialized peers, it is difficult to argue that our current system should not be overhauled to match our European [and Canadian] counterparts. Under privatized healthcare, we spend more money but have worse care than countries like Canada, Britain, Germany, and France. By refusing to focus on preventative care for all citizens, we overspend on costly emergency care for citizens who cannot afford health insurance and only visit emergency rooms when symptoms become agonizing and/or life-threatening.
Plus, Bernie Sanders has been practicing his health care stump speech a lot longer than Ted Cruz. Single payer healthcare has been one of the key pillars of Sanders’ 2016 candidacy, while Cruz only focused on criticizing Obamacare. Sanders has a plan, but Cruz does not. It’s gonna show, and Sanders will inevitably win.