On Monday night, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes faced off in their only debate. It was a feisty event, but one point stuck out in particular: McConnell’s word salad on Obamacare. "Kentucky Kynect is a website. It was paid for by a grant from the federal government," he said. "The website can continue, but in my view the best interests of the country would be achieved by pulling out Obamacare root and branch." Eventually, McConnell said about Kynect, “It’s fine to have a website.”
Grimes jumped on McConnell for those comments. "In the fictional fantasy land that Mitch McConnell is in," she said, "it doesn't show the statistics that are here in the state. We have over half a million Kentuckians who are, for the first time ever, are filling prescriptions, are going to the doctor [and] are getting checkups." In fact, McConnell's statement is even worse than that. As my colleague Brian Beutler observed in May, “McConnell appeared to be banking on the likelihood that most Kentuckians won't realize Kynect-sans-ACA would be basically superfluous—exploiting confusion over which aspects of the Kynect experience are within Kentucky's power to maintain.” Five months later and McConnell is still using the same deceitful strategy.
You’d expect such a ridiculous argument to be the highlight of the debate with the media quickly and easily debunking it. Instead, though, the press has focused on Grimes’s refusal to say who she voted for in the 2012 election, the second time she has done so in the past week. In NBC’s First Read Tuesday morning, the recap of the debate began, “Kentucky Democrat and U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes isn’t going to tell you who she voted for, no matter how many times you ask.” In Politico’s piece on the 10 key quotes from the debate, the first one is Grimes’s gaffe. The New York Times’ new morning newsletter on politics also mentions Grimes’s comments first. (To the Times' credit, it also points out that Kynect would almost certainly collapse if Obamacare was repealed.) But the winner of this false equivalence contest was NBC’s Luke Russert, who sent the following tweet at the end of the debate Tuesday night:
So big gaffes from both tonight--Grimes' idiotic nondisclosure of who she voted for for POTUS--McConnell calling OCare KY xchange "fine"— Luke Russert (@LukeRussert) October 14, 2014
As many people explained in response, these are two very different things. Grimes’s refusal to admit who she voted for is bad politics, and demonstrates a lack of political courage, but ultimately has little effect on how she would represent the state of Kentucky. But if McConnell got his way and repealed Obamacare while keeping Kynect as a website, it would cause 500,000 Kentuckians to lose their health insurance. That’s not a gaffe. It’s a deceptive policy position. And the media's focus on Grimes is covering that up.
This post has been updated.