After the failure of the Republican Congress to replace Obamacare with their own health bill, President Trump said they should now just let it fail. He says that when it does – and there are a variety of measures Mr Trump can use to ensure it collapses – Democrats will cry uncle and will come on board with some sort of new replacement legislation.
And if they don’t? If the Democrats hold fast and refuse anything which repeals rather than merely repairs Obamacare? President Trump predicts that Americans will blame Democrats, since they are the ones who crafted Obamacare in the first place. ‘I’m not going to own it,’ Trump said, ‘I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it.’
Seem fair enough, right? They built it, they own it. Yet while, as a matter of principle, Mr Trump may be correct, unfortunately for him that’s not how things work in politics. It instead lives by the old adage of every gift-shop owner: you break it, you own it. That might not be fair, but who said politics was fair?
As a rule, Presidents get credit, and blame, for the state of the country when they’re in office, regardless of their actual responsibility for the outcomes on which they’re judged. Economists have correlated various economic indicators with presidential approval ratings and found that, by and large, if people are feeling personally good about their economic situation, they approve of the President’s job – regardless of what they they might actually think of the President.
Back in the 1990s, Americans routinely said they found President Bill Clinton to be something of a scumbag, but with the economy going strong, they stood by him throughout his impeachment scandal. Republicans then groused that the booming economy of the 1990s owed more to the legislative and policy changes that had taken place a decade earlier, during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Be that as it may, nobody wanted to mess with success, and Hillary was still trumpeting Bill’s economic achievements when she ran for office last year.
And it’s not like Republicans haven’t benefited from this game. Since Donald Trump was elected last November, the stock market has risen by nearly a fifth. This stellar performance has little to do with anything Mr Trump or Congressional Republicans have actually done. Indeed, other than a bit of deregulation, the main planks of Mr Trump’s economic programme have yet to be put in place. His plans for a big spend on infrastructure, for tax reform, for a repeal of Obamacare (and with that a fall in taxes) so far lie in wait.
Nevertheless, the mere hope that big changes might be afoot has caused investors to bid shares up to the sky. Whenever there is talk of a Trump rally, I don’t exactly hear folks in his entourage saying ‘hold on now, that’s just wishful thinking, we haven’t delivered yet.’ On the contrary, they point to the market as a measure of the success of Trumponomics, and most people give him the benefit of the doubt. So it goes for anyone who has found a job, or received news that the job they were going to lose will now be preserved. Most of those people credit Trump.
However, as it is on the way up, so it is on the way down. The stock market is a discounting mechanism. You call sell the sizzle, but sooner or later investors will demand to see some steak. The failure of Obamacare under Trump’s watch will cause hardship to millions; few of them will blame it on Obama. Worse, if Mr Trump’s legislative agenda continues to be tied up, as it has been over the failure to repeal Obamacare, soon the shine will go off his Presidency. Should the market then turn south, don’t expect much indulgence from investors as they watch their portfolios shrink.
No, whether or not he likes it, Obamacare is now Mr Trump’s. If he works with Democrats to repair it, his base may resent him for selling out – or they may reward him from being pragmatic. But if he really does try to speed its collapse so as to engage in a game of chicken with Congressional Democrats, he’ll probably find them holding a steely calm as he heads for the cliff. Because if Obamacare goes down without any kind of replacement, Mr Trump is likely to go down with it.