The president was feeling himself last night. Scheduled to speak for 30 minutes at a campaign rally in Iowa, he raved for over an hour, declaring that he was working on legislation to block immigrants from receiving welfare for five years (that legislation already exists and was signed by Bill Clinton); that the GOP victories in special elections in heavily Republican districts were proof that “all we do is win, win, win” (Trump’s approval rating is currently sitting at 36 percent); that his cabinet is full of millionaires because he doesn’t want a “poor person” as commerce secretary; and that The Wall the United States will construct on its Mexican border will be made out of solar panels (I don’t even know what to do with the last two).
It felt like a return to the campaign trail, because it was. Trump ranted about the “witch hunt” against him and argued that his administration was being undermined by the pesky “resistance,” not by his own self-defeating incompetence. It was the kind of message you expect from Trump, especially given his lack of major accomplishments—and the incredible unpopularity of the major accomplishment that may be coming this summer, the American Health Care Act.
Trump didn’t talk much about the health care bill moving through the Senate, except to insist that it will pass. That was likely no accident.
Trump framed his administration’s woes as being the product out-of-touch elites who want to rob his voters blind. This is most likely the kind of pitch that Mitch McConnell and many Republicans will make going forward, especially if they’re able to pass the AHCA. To overcome the fact that they will have taken away health care from millions of people, and raised its costs for millions more, the GOP will try to drive voters to the polls by playing to grievances and cultural resentment. They will combine this with unimaginable Super PAC spending, which we saw in all four special elections in 2017. GOP turnout in Georgia’s special election suggests this might not be a bad bet.
But the AHCA was not much of a factor in Georgia’s special election. Whether or not it passes, it will be the biggest issue in the 2018 elections, just as Obamacare was the biggest issue in the 2010 elections. Trump and Republicans might be able to sweep it under the rug now, but they won’t be able to do that once the Senate’s bill is finally made public.
The timing of Trump’s rally hardly seems accidental, given that the Senate’s bill is dropping on Thursday. It was the last time he could gloat without having to defend what is shaping up to be a horrific health care bill.