(Bloomberg View) — Donald Trump is trotting out one of his odder assertions from back on the campaign trail, now packaged as his backup plan in case the Republican health care bill doesn’t pass: He’ll let Obamacare fail, so people will blame the Democrats.
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Never mind that if the current bill goes down it will fairly obviously be a Republican failure through and through; after all, Republicans have majorities in both chambers of Congress. And since they’re using the reconciliation procedure in the Senate, all they need is to stay united in order to pass their bill. So it’s going to be extremely difficult for anyone other than hard-core partisans to place the blame anywhere but on the majority party.
Never mind, too, that Trump is (as many immediately pointed out) giving away the game by saying publicly that he’ll allow the health care system of the United States to just fail.
No, never mind those things, because logical arguments, for better or worse, really don’t have much to do with voter blame in these sorts of things.
The truth is — and Trump really should learn this as quickly as possible — that voters blame incumbents when things go wrong.
Of course, once again hard-core Republican partisans will happily blame everything on Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and every other Democrat they’ve ever heard of. But that’s sort of irrelevant, because that group (some 20 to 30 percent of the electorate is probably a good guess) will be with Trump no matter what happens, just as hard-core partisans supported Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and George W. Bush to the bitter end.
But for everyone else, it’s events that matter, and they’ll blame events (such as, say, the collapse of their states’ individual health insurance market) on the man currently in the White House. Whether it was actually his fault or not.
The history of this is extremely strong. Look at what happened to Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama early in their presidencies. Both inherited awful economies (Obama with a deep recession; Reagan with terrible inflation and, soon, a tough recession as interest rates were yanked up to stop inflation). And both of these skilled politicians, both of whom ran well-regarded transitions and both of whom who quickly signed into law central portions of their campaign platforms, rapidly became very unpopular. In fact, they both stayed unpopular long enough to suffer serious landslides for the other party in midterm elections, in 1982 and 2010.