To hear President Trump tell it, Obamacare is an unmitigated disaster that’s left America reeling. While making the case for Republican senators to back the party’s overhaul of the law, Trump made his view clear.
“Any senator who votes against starting debate is telling America that you are fine with the Obamacare nightmare, which is what it is,” Trump said, standing in front of a group of families who’d been “victims” of the law. “For Democrats, this vote is a chance to make up for the terrible harm they have inflicted on Americans like those who are with us today. Obamacare has been for them a nightmare. There is still time to do the right thing.”
It’s rhetoric that has long accompanied arguments against the Affordable Care Act, the law behind Obamacare, since it went into effect in 2014. In October of that year, Fox News polled on views of the law. Did people think it was mostly good for the country or mostly bad?
More than half of respondents said “mostly bad.” Regardless of income range or gender, people were more likely to say bad than good. Only Democrats had a positive view of the law — independents and Republicans were more likely to say it was mostly bad. (Figures on bars show the net difference between mostly good and mostly bad responses.)
That was then. Fox asked the same question in May. Now, a majority thinks the law has been mostly good. Of the demographic groups asked in both polls, only Republicans now still are more likely to have said that the law is mostly bad.
In every group except Republicans, the percentage of people saying Obamacare was “mostly good” increased by at least 10 percentage points. Among Republicans, it didn’t budge.
Among those Republicans whose opinions of the law haven’t changed since 2014: Trump.
Last week, Trump tried to twist the arms of Republican senators by arguing that the bill awaiting a vote in the Senate was their last chance to replace the legislation. He lamented that they hadn’t done a good job of selling the benefits of the legislation. On Monday, he did a little bit of that — but mostly reverted to the same argument as the party’s leveraged for years: Obamacare is a failure.
Notice that he tried to use the same argument to woo Democratic votes. At another point, he criticized his political opponents for not joining the Republican effort.
“The Senate is very close to the votes it needs to pass a replacement,” he said. “The problem is we have zero help from the Democrats. They’re obstructionists. That’s all they are, that’s all they’re good at is obstruction, making things not work.”
Republicans have a majority in the Senate. This argument is a bit like blaming your opponent for not throwing interceptions after you lose a football game.
But it also misreads Democratic politics. The legislation is very popular with the Democratic base — and it’s viewed as mostly good by half of independents, too. The Democrats are winning the debate on this issue, vastly decreasing the willingness to help Republicans pass a bill.
Trump’s pitch might work on Republican senators whose base agrees that Obamacare is mostly bad. It would have been much more effective back when most Americans overall agreed that Obamacare was indeed a nightmare — or, at least, thought it was bad.