Trump to GOP: If the health-care bill tanks, we'll let ObamaCare fail and blame Democrats

Yeah, I’m not sure “elect more of us after we failed to fix health care” is a slam-dunk 2018 message for Republicans, no matter how bad the zombie ObamaCare exchanges might get. It’s an especially tough sell coming from Trump, who got elected vowing there’d be so much winning during his presidency that we’d get bored of winning. “Mr. Trump is the purest Green Lantern candidate we’ve seen in recent years,” wrote Brendan Nyhan in 2015, comparing America’s ideal of an omnipotent president in control of events to a superhero with magical powers. You can’t run as the Green Lantern and then get beat two months into your term on your absolute top priority, particularly when your party controls Congress too.

Philip Klein floated this short history of Republican messaging on ObamaCare a few days ago as the new House bill started running into trouble in Congress:

Change the 2017 line to “we need a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate to repeal ObamaCare” and you’ll get a taste of how skeptical voters will be if the GOP tanks on repeal now. By 2020, the message will be “actually, we need a supermajority in the Senate to repeal it.” At some point, people get wise to the scam. And yet:

In an Oval Office meeting featuring several leaders of conservative groups already lining up against the House Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, President Donald Trump revealed his plan in the event the GOP effort fails: Allow Obamcare to fail and let Democrats take the blame, sources at the gathering told CNN.

During the hour-long meeting, sources said Trump chastised the groups — including Club for Growth, the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Patriots — for calling the House GOP proposal “Obamacare lite,” warning the tea party activists, “you are helping the other side.”…

Confident that the health care plan will pass the House, Trump laid out his strategy for winning passage in the Senate, telling the meeting he will campaign heavily in red states featuring vulnerable Democrats up for re-election.

“Trump said he will have football stadium events in states where he won by 10-12 points and he is going to dare people to vote against him,” a source at the meeting said.

The big threat after the GOP proposed rolling back Medicaid and slashing subsidies for ObamaCare enrollees, which implicates millions of people, is for Trump to go hold a rally in Missouri and dare Claire McCaskill to vote no? I … think McCaskill might take that dare. Trump seems to believe Democrats will be running on a “moar Obamacare!” platform in 2018, but of course that’s not true. They’ll be running on a “make ObamaCare even more affordable” program — more subsidies and more Medicaid, the opposite of what the House GOP bill does. If you’re a voter who’s unhappy with the state of O-Care but also disgusted that Republicans couldn’t cobble something better together after seven years of whining, which way do you tilt on that message? On the one hand, do you really want Nancy Pelosi back in charge of health-care reform? On the other hand, unlike some people, at least Pelosi proved that she can get something done. Swing voters may well conclude that the problem with both reform plans, first ObamaCare and then the GOP bill, was that they were produced by parties with total control of government who didn’t feel a need to compromise with the minority. Turning Congress blue and having Schumer and/or Pelosi negotiate with Trump would solve that problem. That’s the only way a failing ObamaCare will be rescued by true bipartisan reform.

And remember, midterm elections are naturally almost always referenda on the president and his party. “Do we want more ObamaCare?” was a fine question for a “choice” election a la 2016. In a “referendum” election, the question voters are likely to ask themselves is “Has the president delivered on his promise to replace ObamaCare with something?” If the answer is no, why would you reward him by sending more members of his party to Washington?

The most salient mystery of 2018 isn’t whether Trump can successfully blame Democrats for the state of American health coverage but whether passage of the House bill might actually hurt the party more than failure would. The newsiest bit from last night’s White House meeting with conservative activists was that Trump might agree to accelerate the Medicaid rollback in the bill, starting it in 2018 instead of 2020. That works out well for Trump himself — the rollback won’t be as fresh of an issue by the time he gets around to running for reelection — but it means it’ll land squarely in the laps of congressional Republicans right before the midterms. Why Congress would agree to an amendment like that, I have no idea. That’ll be the purest test yet of the caucuses’ fear of/loyalty to Trump: If the president tells them to bite the bullet on Medicaid in 2018 because he says so, will they do it? Or is accelerating Medicaid all part of some kabuki designed to get Congress to choke on the bill, fail to pass it, and then spend another two years running on ye olde “ObamaCare sucks” message? Maybe they should cancel reform until Trump’s second term, just to have a solid decade of excuse-making in Klein’s timeline.

Exit question for all Republican voters: How excited would you be to turn out in 2018 if Trump and Ryan whiff on repeal? If the answer is “not very,” what’s left of Trump’s “blame the Democrats” strategy?

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