Greg Sargent wrote a piece for the Washington Post the other day in which he posed the question of whether or not President Trump is falling into Speaker Paul Ryan’s “trap” by supporting the American Health Care Act. In was an interesting choice of words—one that, as the iconic Admiral Ackbar reminds us, usually pertains to a hapless victim falling prey to a nefarious plot.
Sargent explained that the proposed AHCA legislation potentially steps on the populist messaging that Trump ran his successful campaign on. As many will remember, Trump promised early in the Republican primary that his health care plan would include “insurance for everybody” and that the government was “going to pay for it.” It was essentially an endorsement of universal healthcare—a position that conservatives and the GOP have adamantly opposed for a very long time. Thus, the pledge raised some eyebrows.
As the campaign went on, however, Trump tamped down the rhetoric and limited his health care stance to simply describing Obamacare as a “disaster” that needed to be replaced. Beyond that, he rarely spoke of the issue. In fact, until the White House confirmed back in October that insurers (through Healthcare.gov) would be raising 2017 premiums by an average of 25% (a timely political gift that Trump couldn’t ignore), health care talk had all but disappeared from his stump speeches.
It seems a bit silly, then, to worry about an early campaign promise that fell to the wayside quite a while ago. Still, according to multiple reports (some of which Sargent cited in his column), many Trump loyalists are urging that the president withdraw his support of the ACHA (which is aimed more at individual choice than individual coverage) to preserve his populist cred.
Trump’s cheerleaders in the media also want Trump to abandon the ACHA, but not on populist grounds. They’re attacking the bill from the right. Yes, after two years of shelving their conservative principles to carry the president’s water (even as he hailed universal healthcare and praised single-payer), they’ve miraculously rediscovered the wisdom of small-government principles.
Pro-Trump commentators including Laura Ingraham, Eric Bolling and Lou Dobbs have been ignoring Ryan’s explanation that the ACHA is the first phase in a three-phase plan to increase competition and ultimately lower health costs, and have declared the bill to be every bit as liberal as Obamacare. They’ve been using terms like “Obamacare 2.0”, “Obamacare-Lite”, “RINOcare”, and even “RyanCare” to get their point across, and Dobbs has gone as far as to demand that Ryan resign over the proposal.
Again, these were the very same people who were singing Trump’s praises, and routinely slamming his genuinely conservative primary opponents, while the candidate was describing a far more government-heavy solution than what’s currently in the ACHA.
So what’s the real story here? How did these parrots, after two years, finally manage to find an area of disagreement with Trump? The answer lies in their reluctance to even acknowledge the president’s endorsement of the ACHA. They reject the term “TrumpCare” and they use phrases like “hoodwinked” and “wool over the eyes” to imply that Ryan is somehow manipulating Trump. It’s almost as if they think the president is too stupid or naïve to understand what he has signed on to (though they would, of course, never say that).
To them, any change to the system as a political loser, and protecting Trump politically (rather than actually fixing problems) is the highest concern. They’re likening the situation to the old Pottery Barn rule: “You break it, you buy it.” And when it comes to the American health care system, changing it (even if it’s ultimately for the better) leaves one prone to effective fearmongering and defamation from the other side of the aisle.
For that reason, some are even suggesting that Trump should do nothing at all, and let Obamacare collapse—the idea being that the Democrats would be the ones who end up paying the political price. The more conspiratorial among the bunch even believe that Ryan and the GOP “establishment” are purposely using the AHCA to hurt Trump politically, in order to bolster a primary challenge against him in 2020.
It’s unfortunate (though not surprising) that our country has become as cynical and hyper-partisan as it has. The situation is so bad that neither side is even willing to consider something like the AHCA as a good-faith solution to address at least some of the very real problems associated with Obamacare (including cost and unsustainability). Instead, it’s all about what could be gained and lost politically.
Sure, political risk is always a factor when it comes to formulating policy, but if it’s the primary reason for not doing something, the politicians will always prioritize themselves over their constituents. And that’s of no help to the American people.