Why Democrats Should Accept Credit for Killing Trumpcare
After the Republican health care bill failed to muster the necessary votes in the U.S. Senate, some Republicans — including President Donald Trump — blamed Democrats for its failure.
President Donald Trump took a shot at Congress on Tuesday morning after the latest Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act collapsed amid party divisions.
“We were let down by all of the Democrats and a few Republicans,” Trump tweeted. “Most Republicans were loyal, terrific & worked really hard. We will return!”
Most Democrats and left-leaning media figures have studiously denied these accusations, rebutting them with analysis like what you see below. I’m excerpting this passage not to pick on this particular reporter, but to offer a prototypical example of the kind of rebuttals I’ve been reading and hearing:
To be clear, Democrats have never been part of the Republican majority’s calculus on health care reform. That’s by design.
At the beginning of this year, thinking only Senate Democrats — with the power of a filibuster — would stop them from repealing Obamacare and cutting taxes, Republican leadership devised a plan to bypass Democrats altogether: They tied their major agenda items to the budget through “budget reconciliation,” a bill that can impact spending, revenue, or the debt ceiling, with only a party-line vote in the Senate.
In other words, Republicans, knowing they wanted to do something Democrats would never sign on to, found a way to circumvent them altogether. It means they have an incredibly small margin of victory (they can only lose two votes) — and only themselves to blame every time their proposals fall apart.
My reaction: Heaven forbid that Democrats take credit for killing a bill that’s polling at 17 percent and would throw more than 22 million Americans off health insurance!
Team Blue is so cowed by Republican attacks, so habituated to fact checking every false accusation, and so enamored with empirical precision that they’ve lost sight of political common sense. Voters usually like it when their leaders stop horrible and unpopular things from happening.
If your opponent blames you for killing a horrible and unpopular bill — even if it’s a lie — you take all the credit you can get. You say, “Yes, we did it! We’re proud of doing it. And we’d do it all over again if given the chance.” And then you repeat your well-practiced talking points on how horrible and unpopular the bill is.
Retreating into a fact check is just about the dumbest response you can give.
Rebuttals like the one quoted above may be intended to show how incompetent Republicans are at governing, but what they actually demonstrate is how spectacularly incompetent you are at politics. The impulse to fact check in premised on the assumption that your greater fidelity to the truth gives you the political upper hand. It does not — and we have decades of scientific research to prove it.
The science of persuasion is pretty much settled on this point: fact checking doesn’t work. If it did, Trump probably wouldn’t be president. If anything, fact checking amplifies the lie it’s meant to discredit and often leads the perpetrators and their supporters to double-down on the original falsehood, a phenomenon known as the backfire effect. Even when the backfire doesn’t occur and fact checks do nudge people toward the truth, they don’t change people’s opinions of the public figure behind the lies.
So if fact checking isn’t the right response in this situation, what is?
If you want your opponents to stop lying, your only effective options are to make their lies hurt them or work for you. Factual rebuttals usually accomplish neither. By blaming Democrats for the defeat of their health care bill, Trump and Republicans have handed Democrats a golden opportunity to make a right wing lie work for us.
To be clear, I would never suggest that Democrats proactively claim credit for something they didn’t do. But the truth of the matter is that Democratic activism, messaging and discipline — at both the grassroots and elite levels — did play a significant role in the defeat of the GOP’s health care legislation by framing the debate and raising the political costs of voting for the health care bill. Democrats can and should take credit for this.
There’s at least one other reason Democrats should happily take credit for killing the Republican health care bill — and it has to do with the party’s position in the halls of power. In politics, perception matters. So when you’re walled out of power, as the Democratic Party is today, it’s important to seize any chance you can to look powerful — both to your supporters and your opponents. The inverse of this is true as well: Looking powerless is one of the most effective ways to end up — or remain — that way.
Taking credit for blocking the health care bill makes Democrats in Congress look powerful. Denying credit by pointing to the Democrats’ relative powerlessness just validates the unhelpful and demoralizing narrative that Democrats are weak and ineffectual. You return to power by capitalizing on your opponents’ mistakes, not by reminding the voters how impotent and ineffectual you are.
So my recommendation is this: When Republicans blame Democrats for the defeat of Trumpcare, Democrats shouldn’t defensively nitpick the accuracy of this claim. Democrats should accept credit with open arms and remind voters why the defeat of Trumpcare is a victory worth celebrating.