It's been more than a decade since then-President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, his signature legislative accomplishment, into law. Since then, Republicans in the House and Senate have spent years trying to repeal some, if not all, of the massive health care infrastructure that provided medical insurance coverage to more than 40 million Americans in 2023 alone, according to an estimate from the Department of Health and Human Services. After wielding their repeal efforts as a perennial campaign cudgel for the better part of the 2010s, the 2022 midterms elections were "the first [time] in more than a decade" Republicans didn't make erasing the ACA a tentpole issue, NBC News reported, citing the "diminished appetite" for that particular fight from a GOP resigned to the fact that Obamacare seems here to stay.
As the 2024 general elections ramp up in earnest however, the relative lull of 2022's ACA detente appears at risk of being labeled a fluke, as GOP front-runner former President Donald Trump insists on making his predecessor's battle-tested legislation a campaign issue once again. Calling it "not good Healthcare," in a post on his Truth Social network this weekend, Trump claimed to be "seriously looking at alternatives" while urging fellow Republicans to "never give up!" on efforts to repeal the law.
By all indications, Democrats are thrilled. With KFF Polling showing the ACA's popularity at an all-time high this year, President Joe Biden and his allies have welcomed what they see as an easily winnable fight of the Republican front-runner's own making.
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
So is Trump's latest broadside against Obamacare the gift Democrats think it is?
What the commentators said
Donald Trump can "can say whatever he wants," Delaware Sen. Tom Carper (D) told the conservative Washington Examiner, adding the ACA "ain't going away," and that raising the issue in the 2024 elections might "work out in ways that he will not like."
Trump is "inviting a political fight he's very likely to lose," agreed MSNBC's Steve Benen. The 2017 Republican push to repeal the legislation was a "disaster for the party, which Democrats exploited" when they retook the House majority the following year. Zeroing in on Trump's claim to be exploring ACA alternatives, Benen called the line "laughable," noting that the former president had repeatedly made similar promises "that always went unmet."
Acknowledging both the unfulfilled repetition of Trump's promises, as well as the potential risk they nevertheless represent, Biden himself weighed in on his likely general election opponent's comments at a White House event on Monday, exclaiming "they just don't give up."
"And my predecessor has once again, God love him, called for cuts that could rip away health insurance for tens of millions of Americans, and Medicaid. They just don't give up." —President Biden on Donald Trump's call to repeal the Affordable Care Act pic.twitter.com/8J5qiBHyM9November 27, 2023
Behind the scenes, the Biden camp has moved even more aggressively to capitalize on what they see as an opening for the president, happily "ced[ing] its programming decisions to Mr. Trump." The New York Times reported, saying the campaign had "altered its previous plans" to focus on "amplifying" Trump's attack on the ACA. Trump is "making this easy for us," Biden campaign Communications Director Michael Tyler told the paper, which claimed that Trump's lurch into attacking the ACA "surprised even his own aides."
Writing in The Washington Post that "Obamacare has changed a lot since it was first enacted, partly because of Trump," self-admitted ACA skeptic Ramesh Ponnuru, an editor at the conservative National Review, nevertheless concluded that "considering Obamacare in isolation from the rest of the health-care system makes no sense" and will make even less should Trump follow through on his pledge.
Biden's "expedited plans" to highlight Trump's health care comments have already begun, The Washington Post reported, predicting the president's campaign will "run new TV ads this week in swing states" both highlighting the administration's work lowering prescription drug costs, and Trump's remarks. The campaign is also "digging through the archives to resurface Trump's attempts over the years to terminate the law."
Meanwhile, though Trump's much-promised Obamacare alternative has yet to materialize from the former president's campaign itself, "conservative policy groups staffed by Trump alumni" have already begun working on health care proposals should a Republican win the White House next year, Axios reported.
Create an account with the same email registered to your subscription to unlock access.