Last week, I wrote about Donald Trump’s soft support among Republicans. Democrats already strongly disapprove of his bigotry, buffoonery and right-wing ideology. In order to dip down to Nixonian or Bush ’43 levels — high 20s, low 30s — he will have to lose support from conservatives and Republican-leaning independents.
This is looking more and more likely. The recent health care debacle shows why Trump is in trouble — and, unless he makes a fundamental change, doomed to a pointless presidency free of policy accomplishments.
This is the dynamic at play:
- Trump is toxic to the vast majority of Americans.
- Trump’s involvement in any issue makes that issue toxic and hence more difficult for Republicans to win on.
- Trump is easily distracted, has little interest in policy and does not have the energy or political skill to pursue a contentious legislative debate to completion. He (inevitably) withdraws once things become challenging.
- The conservative argument is weakened with little to show for it. Republicans are dismayed. Liberals are energized.
Gift to the left
Republicans talked about replacing Obamacare for years, but now they are in a worse position than when they started due to Trump.
Obamacare is more popular than ever. The American people are more educated on health care generally and the Affordable Care Act in particular. Before the Republicans put its protections on the chopping block, few Americans knew exactly what the Affordable Care Act did. Some even thought it was different from Obamacare.
By targeting Obamacare, conservatives have given the left a perfect opportunity to reintroduce the landmark legislation to the public, this time on their own terms — and in contrast to a poorly designed, draconian Republican proposal which kicks upwards of twenty million people off of insurance.
The result of this reintroduction: 55 percent of Americans now approve of Obamacare, up from 42 percent around the time of last year’s election.
Reading the polls
It turns out scare tactics don’t work when you’re talking about a real-life program that already exists. Americans know now that Obamacare isn’t composed of death panels and rationing: It’s a flawed yet generally stable private sector-centric system that, on the whole, protects them.
Conservative hardliners may persist in their efforts to repeal without suitable replacement. The principled don’t care about Obamacare’s newfound popularity. The ignorant don’t believe polls, asserting that the failure of subjective likely voter polling models in one election (within the margin of error!) negates the entire science of opinion polling.
But despite being filled with far-right ideologues, there are enough people in the White House and in Congress who can read the data. Even with unified control of the government, Republicans could not pass legislation fast enough to prevent Trump from poisoning it.
More Republicans still are turned off by Trump’s bullying behavior being turned against the president’s right flank rather than his left. Regrets suppressed during the primary are now coming out in full swing.
Recipe for disaster
The other tack is to simply keep Trump out of the loop.
The evidence that the White House — or at least smart people working in the White House — know this can be seen in Mike Pence’s recent effort to meet with House Republican leaders to try to broker some kind of deal on an unnamed future bill.
This effort, however, resulted in failure. The well is already poisoned by Trump’s prior involvement. The House is now likely to go on recess without an Obamacare replacement or repeal package.
Even if Pence had succeeded, it might have been for naught. This kind of minor, behind-the-scenes success would not suffice, at least not in terms of sating the conservative base which prefers high-profile victories over nuts-and-bolts tweaks. They were promised things by this president!
Trump’s problem, of course, is that his promises were outlandish. And because his agenda is about as vast as his political acumen is lacking, this is a recipe for complete disappointment.
Since so many conservatives sucked it up to vote for him against Hillary Clinton in November, this is a recipe for disaster. It will take a game changer to break the Toxic Trump trend.