The Conservative Media’s Role in Trumpcare’s Flameout

The conservative media’s post-mortems on the political collapse of Trumpcare have ignored one culprit: the conservative media itself. For years now, the base of the GOP has been told over and over again that:

A) Obamacare was destroying America and must therefore be completely repealed

B) That the GOP replacement plan would lower premiums and deductibles

C) This could all be done without having tradeoffs such as tyrannical mandates or taxes

D) The Democrats were so incompetent that it would be easy to come up with something better

E) Democrats were so evil that working with them on a solution would be cause for excommunication, and

F) the most important goal was being able to say that Obamacare was repealed.

The conservative echo chamber hit these points repeatedly, for years. It created a electoral base that could not tolerate keeping Obamacare—and could not tolerate any of the alternatives. Trump exacerbated all this by promising that his plan would offer better coverage in addition to lower premiums, and the conservative media almost never challenged that. There was rarely any sense that there were tradeoffs that must be faced, even from a conservative policy point of view. (In fact, the coherent conservative health care plans never really got a full hearing either).

Finally, they believed their own propaganda about Obamacare imploding. Just as watching MSNBC convinced Democrats that Hillary had the election in the bag, watching Fox News and others made the base think Obamacare was a universal catastrophe. So when it came time to repealing it, lawmakers were surprised that it had such a strong base of support. Coming up with sensible policy did require some steps that couldn’t be included in the reconciliation process—which meant 60 votes, which meant working with Democrats. But the base had been conditioned that such collaboration would have been sacrilegious (and unnecessary since repeal and replace was going to happen “very, very quickly”). The GOP ended up never having a coherent policy theory about what they wanted to do, in part because the conservative media (ok, most media) prefer politics to substance. Most of the time when I checked out conservative media they were not covering what was in the legislation, providing a disservice to their own viewers. The GOP lawmakers were trying to come up with something that made actual policy sense while appealing to a base that has been pickling in a potion of misleading information and raw anger for years.

Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman is founder of LifePosts.com, a platform for online memorials and life milestones. He's a Washington Monthly contributing editor, journalist and author.