Democrats need a clear, positive message to combat Trump’s lies.
Last week’s release of the Mueller report’s summary by William Barr seemed to be a considerable victory for President Donald Trump. But a few days later, much of the political press had already started to turn towards a growing controversy in the executive branch. Upon advice from interim Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Trump decided to attempt once again to end the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Politico reported last week that the Trump administration said “it supports a federal judge’s ruling that the entire Affordable Care Act should be thrown out, signaling a shift in the Justice Department’s position...”
Democrats became giddy, remembering the well-honed message on healthcare that helped them win the House in the 2018 midterms. They welcomed the decision as a distraction from the Barr news and immediately used the announcement as ammunition against the president and Republican leadership. On Tuesday, Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer previewed future Democratic attacks when he said, “last night the president tweeted that they will come up with their plan in 2021. Translation: they have no healthcare plan… They are for repeal, they have no replace.” Republicans also reacted strongly and delivered a rare rebuke to the president, forcing him to back away from his attempt to rewrite healthcare policy right before the 2020 election.
Trump’s decision to take another stand against the ACA will undoubtedly aid Democrats in the next presidential election. Healthcare was a winning issue for them in 2018 and has not lost its potency. Democrats have been laser-focused on creating a simple narrative for the 2020 election: Democrats will expand healthcare while Trump will restrict it. The Medicare for All and Medicaid buy-in plans of candidates like Bernie Sanders and Beto O’Rourke exemplify the Democratic commitment. This message will continue to permeate even if Trump does not agree to jettison the ACA at every possible stage.
But Democrats will certainly have to prepare for an inevitable part of the 2020 campaign: the Trump promise. Trump has a habit of pivoting away from gaffes or unpopular policies with broad, sweeping promises that sound appealing to voters but have no basis in reality. He promised to secure everyone affordable healthcare on numerous occasions. Before last year’s midterm elections, he promised a middle class tax cut. Trump has also promised rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, completely destroying ISIS, and eliminating the nation’s trade deficit. None of these wide-eyed goals has been achieved.
The problem for Democrats is that Trump’s pronouncements still receive media airtime. Arguably the most brazen lie that Trump told was about the aforementioned middle class tax cut that he first discussed two weeks before the midterm elections. Nearly every observer identified it as a craven political ploy with no basis in reality. But the plan still received considerable headlines. There was coverage when the plan was mentioned and a renewed set of stories that emerged as Trump directed the White House and Congress to craft a plan as soon as possible. Even though nearly everyone saw right through the ploy, it most likely reached a sizable number of voters.
Democrats have to counteract the scourge of Trump promises with their own set of broad, ambitious goals. They have to promise to fix healthcare and cover all Americans, not just modestly decrease premiums. Each Democrat needs to have a solid, easily explained plan, and a large number of their ads against Trump need to highlight the president’s failure to pass practically anything resembling health reform. But most importantly, Democrats cannot spend their time complaining about Trump’s lies or harping on a message of hypocrisy. As Hillary Clinton learned, Democratic presidential candidates will not be able to shame the public or the press from paying attention to Trump’s lies. They shouldn’t even try.