He is sharp and charismatic, with the flash and bang of a stick of dynamite. But Senator Ted Cruz just blew up in the face of the Republican Party. Here is my take on this week’s Cruz-missile explosion and why it could seriously impact the Republican Party’s aspiration to retake the White House.
The Cuban-American junior senator from Texas’ epic 21-hour rant against Obamacare rallied Tea Party Libertarians who flooded the emails and voicemails of Congressional Republicans, like Peter King of New York who dared to be critical of Cruz. King accused Cruz of being "a fraud." King was rewarded with a tsunami of messages he called "vile and obscene" from Tea Party activists stirred by Senator Cruz’ call to battle.
But since Tea Party activists already vote for the GOP, this is where Senator Cruz hurt his party’s chances. Latinos are the demographic group most coveted by Republicans, essential if the party is to win back the White House. They are also the group that will benefit most from the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).
31% of Hispanic-Americans do not have health insurance; almost double the 16% of the overall U.S. population not covered. The ACA will extend Medicaid eligibility to between 8 and 10 million citizen Hispanics, and that number is freaking out the far right.
I had liberal former Democratic presidential candidate, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis on my radio show taking mostly hostile questions from conservative listeners fervently supportive of Senator Cruz. When Governor Dukakis gently asked one angry elderly caller, Sandy from Boynton Beach Florida, why she was so opposed to health care coverage for uninsured Americans, she admitted she wasn’t sure of the specifics, but she was sure that "all that taxpayer money is going to go to those illegal immigrants." The governor explained that folks here illegally were barred from benefiting, but by then Sally wasn’t listening.
Given the unrelenting propaganda campaign being waged against Obamacare by Senator Cruz and others, it is no surprise that the legislation is unpopular with Sally and many Americans. 49% believe it is a "bad idea" according to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.
But since so many Hispanics will benefit from the new law, it is no wonder they see it in a more positive light. According to a recent Pew poll, 61% of Hispanics approve of the Affordable Care Act.
Perversely, what could help Republicans is the Obama Administration’s apparent lack of readiness to implement the new law. Of the up to 10 million Hispanics eligible to sign up, as many as 4 million speak only Spanish. Yet with enrollment slated to start on October 1st, the Spanish-language version of the healthcare.gov website will not be ready for online enrollment.
Additionally, many of the health care centers and community organizations providing the "navigators" who will guide the uninitiated (like me) through the enrollment process complain that they have few or no Spanish-speakers. I’m told the process is roughly as complicated as filing your income tax returns; which means it is complicated enough for average folks to need help filling out the applications.
It sounds like it is going to be a horror show when the doors open on October 1st. Like Medicare and Medicaid it will eventually get sorted out, but there are going to be some major bumps along the way. One thing for sure, Senator Cruz won’t have to resort to quoting Dr. Seuss to fill the time of his next filibuster. He will have much better material next time.