The country sent Donald Trump and the Republican Party a clear brush back pitch on November 7, 2017. Democrats enjoyed their best election night in a half decade, winning high-profile governor’s races in New Jersey and Virginia, and making massive statehouse gains in states across the country. It was a rout — a veritable “ass-kicking,” in the words of Connecticut senator Chris Murphy.
And the common thread of the night was Americans sticking up for their healthcare.
In Maine, nearly 60 percent of voters approved a referendum to adopt Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, extending health insurance to 89,000 low-income residents. The state’s intransigent troglodytic governor Paul LePage had ardently opposed expansion, repeatedly slandering Maine’s would-be Medicaid recipients as lazy leeching “able-bodied adults who can work and contribute to their own health insurance costs.” The people of Maine just put LePage in his place, going around him to overwhelmingly approve healthcare for their neighbors.
Medicaid’s rousing victory in Maine is expected to inspire similar ballot initiatives in more non-expansion states in 2018. These could include Utah, Idaho, Kansas, and other states that have held out against expanding Medicaid.
In Virginia, a tight governor’s race turned into an easy win for Democrat Ralph Northam. This has roundly been read through the lens of Northam’s Republican opponent, supper lobbyist Ed Gillespie, who remade himself in the image of Trump be running on racial fear-mongering in an attempt to gin up the conservative base. Voters in Virginia roundly rejected Trumpism on Tuesday.
But the results were also driven by voters’ concerns about their healthcare. Nearly 40 percent of Virginia voters surveyed in exit polls reported that healthcare was their most important issue, far outpacing any other concern.
Democrats also made historic gains in Virginia’s House of Delegates. As of Wednesday morning, Democrats had picked up an incredible 14 seats in the hundred-seat statehouse, pulling to a 48-47 lead with five races still being tallied or too close to call.
Winning a statehouse majority would extend Medicaid to 400,000 low-income Virginians. Current Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe tried for years to expand the program, but the Republican-controlled House of Delegates blocked him at every turn. A Democratic-led statehouse would allow Virginia to finally expand the program. But even a House of Delegates with a slim Republican majority will feel incredible pressure to expand Medicaid in light of Tuesday’s sweeping election results.
These were state elections, but they were driven by national politics. Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress relentlessly attacked the health security of millions of Americans for the vast majority of 2017. Their party paid for it up and down the ballot on Tuesday. Voters fought back to protect their care.
Before Tuesday, Republicans in Congress were toying with using their tax reform bill to take another stab at secretly gutting Obamacare by repealing the law’s individual mandate. If Congress balks, Trump is poised to continue his administrative campaign to sabotage the law by readying an executive order unraveling enforcement of the mandate. Either would strike a massive blow against ensuring affordable healthcare access under Obamacare.
Republicans go after healthcare at their own risk. Tuesday’s electoral sweep follows on the heels of a surge of early sign-ups on Obamacare’s health exchanges despite Trump’s best attempts to thwart them. The anti-Trump resistance flexed its muscle last night. If Republicans train their fire on healthcare yet again, they will only fuel the greater storm gathering for November 2018.