Trump’s strange health care strategy comes into sharper focus

Updated

Donald Trump visited Capitol Hill last week, and during a closed-door gathering with Senate Republicans, the president urged lawmakers to tackle health care reform – again. The plea was not well received.

Indeed, the effort collapsed with remarkable speed. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Trump there was no appetite among GOP lawmakers to renew a fight the party would inevitably lose, and the president soon after retreated, announcing the health care debate would remain on hold, at least legislatively, until 2021.

As of this morning, Trump’s principal concern appears to be telling people the retreat was his idea, not McConnell’s – a detail only he considers important – but the larger question is why in the world the president decided to pick this fight at this time. The New York Times, after noting that even many White House officials were “confounded” by their boss’ move, reported late yesterday on Trump’s strategy.

Soon after the president decided last week to intervene in a Texas court case on the side of invalidating the entire Affordable Care Act without a ready replacement, Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence held a conference call with Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, and Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale.

Both Mr. Parscale and Ms. McDaniel tried to tell the president they could not understand what he was doing, according to a person familiar with the call.

Mr. Trump replied that if they did nothing, Democrats would continue to own the issue and that the other option was being known as the party that cannot figure out how to properly craft a health care legislative package, the person said.

That’s funnier than the president probably realizes — because in the wake of his retreat, Democrats continue to own the issue and Republicans remain the party that, after a decade of effort, still has no idea how to craft a health care plan.

These simple truths weren’t in the national spotlight, until Trump thought it’d be a good idea to put them there.

Looking ahead, the president’s new strategy – I use the word “strategy” loosely – is to encourage Republicans to run on the issue in the 2020 elections, telling voters that GOP officials will create an amazing health care system, with comprehensive coverage, and at a lower price.

Trump believes Americans will accept vague and unrealistic promises from Republicans who’ve spent years trying to take health security from millions of families because … well, just because.

Strategic thinking does not appear to be his strong suit.