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Republican Strategy On The Affordable Care Act


Republicans would love to talk about special counsel Robert Mueller's report, which is easy to play as a major win for the president. But suddenly, instead, they are talking about getting rid of Obamacare, again. The Trump administration sent out a two-sentence letter this week pushing the courts to throw out the entirety of the Affordable Care Act. Remember repeal and replace? And remember how that failed dozens of times in Congress? So are Republicans signed up to fight a risky political battle? Let's ask Republican strategist Rick Wilson, who joins us on Skype this morning. Rick, thanks for being here.

RICK WILSON: Good morning.

MARTIN: We should start off by just noting you are not a big fan of President Trump. You authored a book called "Everything Trump Touches Dies." So in light of that, how do you view this move by the Trump administration on the ACA?

WILSON: Well, look; I think that they have sort of staggered around trying to eliminate the Affordable Care Act in the last two years. They have approached it with the most politically backward way. The first time they did it, which was they led with the one element that people truly loved about Obamacare from the very beginning. I'll tell you a quick story.

MARTIN: The existing conditions.

WILSON: Yes. I'll tell you a very quick story. We, during 2009 and '10, were doing some research polling in focus groups for a major advocacy group that was trying to stop the rise of Obamacare. And the thing we discovered right off the bat - Republicans, Democrats, black, white, liberal, conservative, independent - every single demographic group desperately wanted pre-existing condition coverage. They'd all had a story about it. They'd all had a painful experience about it or knew someone who had.

And so when the Trump administration tried to kill it the first time, they led with that. So they led with their chin on it and got knocked down pretty hard. You know, even their own Republicans in Congress were like, no, thank you. And I think you're going to end up with that taking front and center now. I think that, for all of its flaws, the Affordable Care Act has led to a lot of people becoming accustomed to, particularly, having the pre-existing coverage. And so I think there's a political difficulty ahead in terms of how do you get people who are up for re-election in 18 months to jump on that grenade?

MARTIN: Well, how do they? I mean, clearly, there are those in the president's orbit who believe that this is the right political move, I mean, that this is perhaps what Trump's base wants. Is it?

WILSON: The irony of this is that Trump's base has about a fair amount of uptake on Obamacare-type programs. And I think that they're going to end up - you know, like all government programs, they are extraordinarily controversial at first. And whether they are good or bad for the economy, people who come to see them as a right or a benefit expect to keep that right or benefit. And so I think you're going to end up with that as the difficulty here.

And look; there's an ideological component inside the Trump administration that, quite frankly, would really, really like to get rid of Obamacare as a promises-kept checklist item. But there is nothing, you know - there's no repeal-and-replace question here. This is just a pure elimination question. There's no serious health care plan coming down the pike right now in Congress on either side. Nothing that Democrats want would pass the Senate, but then the Senate wants to pass the House. So we're going to be, basically, throwing the health care markets into some enormous chaos.

MARTIN: And meanwhile, the Democrats are more than happy to talk about this issue. It's a political gift for them ahead of the election.

WILSON: Absolutely. They did so in 2018, very successfully.

MARTIN: Republican strategist Rick Wilson - he worked for George H.W. Bush's campaign and in George W. Bush's administration. Thanks so much for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

WILSON: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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