Trump and the GOP are momentarily set up for a killer economic campaign next fall. “You want four more years of gangbusters job growth? Then you know what to do.” That’s their message. Electorally, that’s 1st and Goal from the five-yard line.
Complicating that message by trying to turn the election into a referendum on, of all things, health care instead is like dropping back from the five all the way past midfield and lobbing one to the end zone.
You’ve heard of “eight-dimensional chess”? This is eight-dimensional Hungry Hungry Hippos.
Trivia: Not since the early 1950s has the House flipped from one party to the other and then back again in the span of a single election cycle. It happened a few years before then too, but that was the first time it had occurred since the 19th century. It is extremely rare for a new House majority to be stripped of power by voters immediately, and, with 235 seats in the bank, it’s not as if Democrats are only barely clinging to power. A president with extremely strong job approval might be able to flip the House during his reelection bid but Trump doesn’t have extremely strong job approval. He doesn’t even have strong job approval. If he did, the House wouldn’t have flipped last fall in the first place.
Which is to say, not only is he teeing up an issue here that favors Democrats, he’s making a promise to his base that he almost certainly won’t be able to keep even if he wins a second term.
If you doubt that health care plays to Democratic strengths (and you shouldn’t given the results of the midterms), look at recent polling.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released earlier this month found that 56 percent of respondents see Democratic positions on health care as being “in the mainstream,” compared to only 38 percent who said the same of the Republican Party’s views on the issue.
A Harvard CAPS/Harris poll released exclusively to The Hill this week brought similarly good news for Democrats.
Fifty-eight percent of respondents in that survey said they trust the Democratic Party more to handle health care. Meanwhile, 48 percent said they trust Republicans on the matter.
A poll published last fall by the Kaiser Family Foundation found the public more than 30 points more likely to trust Democrats to continue coverage of preexisting conditions than Republicans, likely for the understandable reason that it was a Democratic program which the GOP fought tooth and nail that guaranteed coverage for those conditions in the first place. The most recent poll from Morning Consult found Republicans favored when the public is asked which side it trusts to handle the economy and jobs — but when asked about health care, Americans favored Democrats by 12 points. It’s not hard to see why: Democrats passed one complex, game-changing reform to health insurance in ObamaCare and are now touting an even more ambitious one in the form of Medicare for All. Republicans, meanwhile, had total control of government for two years and couldn’t even scrape together 50 votes to repeal the ACA.
When the choice on an urgent policy priority is between a bad plan and no plan, bet on the bad plan at the polls.
Republicans on the Hill are treating last night’s Trump tweets as a win since, after all, they amount to a punt. Instead of Trump hectoring them to take up the subject of health care now, fully aware that Pelosi will kill anything they propose, they’ve convinced him to table the issue until after the election. “Phew, we don’t have to come up with another plan to repeal and replace Obamacare,” said one Republican senator to NBC. Right — but the fact that Trump has promised immediate action on this topic after the next election means they *are* going to have to come up with a proposal next year before the vote. That may have been inevitable anyway: If the Democratic nominee’s out there promising a golden age of single-payer utopia, Trump would have had to offer something more specific than “not single-payer” even if he hadn’t made last night’s Twitter pledge. But now that he has, the GOP’s on the hook. What do they do?
Silver lining: If the economy tanks, they’re going to need something else to talk about next year anyway besides jobs. I’m sure, after a decade of trying and failing to come up with a marketable consensus health-care program for the party, they’ll figure something out in the next 12 months.