It may surprise some conservatives, but Ohio governor John Kasich isn’t the only Republican presidential candidate to expand Medicaid in his state under new Obamacare rules.
Relentless conservative opposition to the Medicaid expansion has largely frustrated the presidential aspirations of Kasich, Christie’s chief competitor in the hotly contested race to emerge from New Hampshire as an establishment dark horse. But though Kasich takes unrelenting flak for his decision to institute Obamacare’s expansion of the Great Society entitlement program in Ohio, Christie’s identical choice as governor of New Jersey has faced little national scrutiny. In fact, many conservatives outside of his state aren’t even aware of it.
“Christie’s hanging his hat on his ability to reform entitlements,” says national Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “All someone has to say is, ‘Wait a minute, how can we trust you to reform Social Security when you can’t even reform Medicaid?’”
Still, Christie can’t avoid the subject of his Medicaid expansion forever. If he performs well in New Hampshire and the GOP electorate moves away from its current focus on foreign policy, O’Connell says the Medicaid expansion could be “particularly problematic” for Christie. The New Jersey governor has built his domestic agenda around promises to roll back entitlement spending, producing a detailed plan that would increase the retirement age and cut off Social Security at higher incomes. By taking federal money from the very same system he now calls insolvent to pay off his own state’s debt, he risks being labeled a hypocrite. And his best defense — that he was a Republican governor doing the best he could with a Democratic legislature — may not be good enough for a conservative base tired of compromise.