More than anything, politics is about self-preservation, and the last two weeks provided numerous examples of how public opinion has turned so hard against the law that even its most ardent supporters are running for the hills. It's not just red-state Democrats, like Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, distancing themselves from the law. It's blue-state senators like Oregon's Jeff Merkley and New Hampshire's Jeanne Shaheen -- and top blue-state recruits like Michigan's Gary Peters and Iowa's Bruce Braley, who voted for GOP legislation Friday that the White House said would "gut" the law. Nearly every House Democrat in a competitive district joined with Republicans to threaten the law. Without a quick fix, those ranks will grow.
This tsunami of blowback, which built in just the last month, is unsustainable for Democrats over the long haul. The president isn't just losing his skeptics from the chaotic Obamacare rollout but his allies who stood to gain from the law's benefits -- namely Hispanics, whose approval of the president has dropped more than any demographic subgroup since the problems began. The simplest solution -- if only to stop the bleeding -- is to get the website fixed. (When former DNC Chairman Howard Dean's proposal is to hire tens of thousands of young phone operators to sign people up for insurance -- straight out of a Jerry Lewis telethon -- as he suggested on "Morning Joe," it's clear the website problems are really bad.).
Would President Obama sign a death warrant on his own signature legislation? That's almost impossible to imagine, but it's entirely reasonable that he may not have a choice in the matter. Consider: Despite the White House's protestations, 62.4 percent of the House voted for Michigan GOP Rep. Fred Upton's legislation (261-157), just shy of the two-thirds necessary to override a veto. And consider the House Democrats who voted against Upton's bill but nonetheless released harsh statements criticizing Obamacare. Maryland Rep. John Delaney, in a statement, wrote: "The problem we have currently is that the Affordable Care Act is not working." Added Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick: "The stunning ineptitude of the ACA marketplace rollout is more than a public relations disaster. It is a disaster for the working families in my Arizona district who badly need quality, affordable health care." Add them into the mix -- the dozens more members who were poised to split with the president until his face-saving press conference -- and you've got all but the hardy Obama loyalists who could end up bolting if the political environment doesn't improve.
Democrats are in better shape on the Senate side, but not by as much as conventional wisdom suggests. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will do everything in his influence to protect the president -- and block embarrassing legislation from being voted on -- but not if it means he'll be losing his majority gavel next year. There are 21 Democratic held-seats up in 2014, with 17 Democratic senators running for re-election. Of those 17, 10 are running in states where Obama won less than 55 percent of the vote, approximately the baseline of where House Democrats began splitting with the president on the Upton vote. Excluding Reid, an additional 15 Democrats aren't up in 2014, but represent battleground (< 55% Obama) states where support of the law could become a long-term burden. And then there's California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has emerged as a surprising blue-state critic of the law, retiring Montana Sen. Max Baucus, who famously predicted the implementation was shaping up to be a "train wreck," and retiring moderate South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson.