President Trump surprised his fellow Republicans last week when he promised that their party would soon be known as “the party of health care,” setting off speculation that he would push to replace Obamacare in the coming months. On Monday, however, Trump said that the Republican plan to replace Obamacare would wait until after the 2020 election, and on Wednesday the president further distanced himself from what was quickly becoming political quicksand for GOP lawmakers.
“I was never planning a vote prior to the 2020 Election on the wonderful HealthCare package that some very talented people are now developing for me & the Republican Party,” Trump tweeted. He also denied that he asked Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for an earlier vote, downplaying the Senate majority leader’s reported role in scuttling what some in the GOP saw as an ill-timed health care push that was unlikely to deliver a win for their party.
Trump’s backtracking is just the latest sign that health care is a problematic issue for Republicans. A new Politico/Morning Consult poll, conducted after the Trump administration last week asked a federal court to overturn the Affordable Care Act in full, shows that Democrats continue to have the edge when it comes to voter trust on health care. Fifty-four percent of respondents said that they have a lot or some trust in Democratic lawmakers to protect or improve health care, compared to 41 percent who said the same about Republicans. And a clear majority (59 percent) said they have little or no trust in Trump on health care.
“As health care is pushed to the forefront of the 2020 agenda, our polling suggests President Trump may struggle to attract voters with his promise of a new plan,” said Tyler Sinclair of Morning Consult.
So why is the president focusing on Obamacare? According to Drew Altman and Mollyann Brodie of the Kaiser Family Foundation, Trump is misreading his voter base on the issue. While his hardcore supporters continue to cheer the idea of repealing the Affordable Care Act, they generally support the law’s provisions.
Writing at Axios Wednesday, Altman and Brodie cite a Kaiser poll from November that showed that, despite holding unfavorable views of Obamacare overall, Republican voters approve of many key parts, including allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26, closing the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap and protecting patients with pre-existing conditions.
Given the polling data, Altman and Brodie say that Trump’s strategy of focusing on health care as the 2020 election heats up probably won’t work, even as “it hands the Democrats a huge political opportunity.”
Trump touched on the problem in remarks made Tuesday night, when he told the National Republican Congressional Committee that Democrats “have health care right now … We have to take that away from them.” The president cited one sore spot in particular — one that may not be easy for Republicans to fix: “We have to protect and cannot run away from a thing called preexisting conditions,” he said, adding that it's the right thing to do and also smart politics. “If you don't support it, you have no chance of winning.”