The demise of the American Health Care Act last week through the ballet of incompetence by President Trump and the Republican Party could teach Latinos some valuable lessons: The GOP is an amateur national party when it comes to governing, and it's important to note that Americans will empathize with the face of poverty when that face is white.
The GOP failure to repeal and replace Obamacare was deeply related to how the Republicans lost the narrative over who benefited from the ACA.
First, the Republican debacle was borne from a party and a president who were wholly unprepared to govern mainly because they had not expected to assume any responsibility to govern in the first place. The GOP in Congress had settled into their role as an opposition party over the last seven years, feigning outrage at every petty turn, principally because President Obama’s Affordable Care Act was an effective tool at mobilizing an increasingly angry voter base.
With Trump running as the nominee for president, the GOP had steeled themselves for at least four more years of sabotage against Hillary Clinton. Obstruction and outrage, with a behind-the-scene undermining of the ACA had become a powerful method of persuasion; whether it was disingenuously voting to repeal the ACA dozens of times, to refusing to participate in the expansion of Medicaid, the GOP decided long ago that their best bet in killing Obamacare was to do what they could to make sure it didn’t work.
But to their, and the world’s, surprise they won the presidency and now had to step up and produce a piece of legislation they never intended to write. The GOP was caught flat-footed as the curtain was pulled to reveal that their promise to replace Obamacare with a superior health care bill was as vapid as the notion that the Republican Party had any new ideas of substance over the last two decades unless it ultimately resulted in cutting taxes for the rich.
Republicans had voted to repeal the ACA over 60 times since it was passed. It stretches the imagination to think that the coordination needed for 60 votes to repeal Obamacare by the GOP could not produce a coherent bill to replace the landmark law when finally given the chance, but to nobody’s surprise these 60 votes were never meant to repeal anything. They were designed to give voters the impression that the GOP had something to offer other than subterfuge and vitriol.
Perhaps most important, the greatest failure of the GOP was they had strayed from their old tactics of tying hated entitlement programs to brown faces. The image of the “welfare queen” had been deployed by conservatives after the civil rights era, and Ronald Reagan used dramatic anecdotes of poor black people gaming the system in an explicit attempt to place a black face on government assistance, laying the groundwork for decades of destruction of our welfare system.
Research shows that racial animosity predicts one’s support for government programs, meaning if a voter thinks that a program will be used to support minorities, they will be less likely to support the program. The data supports a natural intuition of the GOP to put a brown face on anything they don’t like. When Rick Santorum was running for president in 2012, cameras caught him in a moment of honesty, saying to a group of Iowans, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them other people’s money.”
But even Obama’s ACA had disproportionately helped white Americans, which just earlier this year Latino Republicans had unsurprisingly tried to capitalize on by misrepresenting the data on how Latinos have been impacted by the ACA.
Needless to say, the media has fetishized poor white communities since Trump’s victory, and the discussion over the repeal of the ACA had raised the issue of whites who benefitted from the ACA but had unwittingly voted for Trump.
White Trump voters from Kentucky to Pennsylvania were the center of attention throughout the quick health care debate, and unsurprisingly, America empathized. Ever since these voters found it just fine to vote for a president who centered his campaign on racism and misogyny, they nevertheless pleaded for mercy.
And once their attention drifted from the drunken chanting of building a wall or banning Muslims, they suddenly sobered up long enough to realize they liked Obamacare, and as detailed emerged at how shockingly inhumane the Republicans could be, with the CBO predicting millions of people losing insurance, the ACHA became deeply unpopular.
The GOP’s failure to repeal and replace Obamacare was not only a policy failure, but perhaps more important to note, it was a marketing one as well. On this, the GOP had forgotten their old playbook, or at least the media had gotten too far ahead of the Republicans by highlighting white poverty since Trump’s victory, but the GOP isn’t likely to make the same mistake again.