When moderator Chris Wallace pointed out that Trump has been promising a plan for four years — and still hasn’t yet delivered — Trump just filibustered, and the discussion turned to another topic.
It appears a lot of people who plan to vote for Trump find this sufficient. Two reporters for the Upshot talked to numerous Trump voters and found that their faith in his intention to protect preexisting conditions was rock-solid.
Some of them have even struggled with this problem in the past.
“I’ve heard from him that he would continue with preexisting conditions so that people would not lose their health insurance,” one Florida woman told the Upshot of Trump. Her husband has a heart condition.
“I still think he has everybody’s best interest at heart,” a Georgia woman added. “I just cannot see him allowing for preexisting conditions to come back.” She has a son with schizophrenia.
Others interviewed by the Upshot said much the same thing. But this one is the most revealing:
“There is not a single guy or woman who would run for president that would make it so that preexisting conditions wouldn’t be covered,” said Phil Bowman, a 59-year-old retiree in Linville, N.C. “Nobody would vote for him.”
This is really the crux of the issue: None of them can begin to imagine someone would face the voters and ask for another term as president while standing for such an indefensible position.
Trump is benefiting from a perverse dynamic: He isn’t being held accountable — at least by many of his voters — for not offering an actual plan to replace the ACA precisely because wiping out the ACA’s protections, and not having any plan to replace them, seems politically unthinkable to them. And that enables him to politically get away with it — among those voters, anyway.
But in fact, Trump is supporting a lawsuit that would wipe away the ACA. If it succeeds, many millions would indeed lose those protections. He and Republicans already tried to repeal the law, and never offered a serious plan to replace it. Trump constantly tells us a plan is coming out any second now. And it never does.
This is actually a perennial problem. Every now and then, Democratic strategists and pollsters find themselves faced with a conundrum: Many voters simply refuse to believe Republicans hold the policy positions they actually do hold.
Back in 2012, for instance, Democrats did a focus group and found that voters simply refused to believe that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney supported a plan that would end Medicare as we know it while also cutting taxes for the rich. But he did.
The story doesn’t end here. During the debate, Joe Biden arguably missed an opportunity to clearly define his own plan in a way that would have effectively filled the vacuum left by Trump’s empty promises. One imagines Biden’s team is hard at work on avoiding that mistake in the next debates.
But when Democrats get this right, there is some accountability. Democrats won the House in 2018 largely because of that GOP drive to destroy the ACA, running countless ads stressing how that would eliminate those protections. Though Republicans gamely insisted that their effort at repeal totally didn’t mean they wanted to get rid of them, voters held them accountable.
Similarly, many Republican senators are now running ads vowing that they absolutely do intend to protect people with preexisting conditions, even as they support that same anti-ACA lawsuit. As Salvador Rizzo chronicled, some of the most vulnerable GOP senators are doing this, including Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Martha McSally (Ariz.). Yet they are lying, and they’re likely to go down to defeat.
I suspect that with Republican voters, Trump benefits from presumptions on this that other GOP lawmakers might not. Trump campaigned in 2016 as a different kind of Republican — one who was not ideologically opposed to universal health care — and that has probably remained in many minds.
But Trump is now trailing in many polls. He knows how deadly this issue is to him — hence his constant false promises of a plan that never comes. But it’s now more likely that he’ll lose than that he’ll win. So this scam might finally go bust. Even for the greatest scammer of all.