President Trump doesn’t like to admit when he’s wrong, but he has some telltale signs when he thinks it. And like a poker player drumming his fingers, his tell is giving away right now that he thinks he got taxes and health care wrong in his first year in office.
First, let’s start with the facts.
In May of 2017, House Republicans voted to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, in part by making it easier for insurers to raise premiums on people with pre-existing conditions in states that received waivers. (The bill died in the Senate.)
That December, Trump signed into law a tax cut which provides short-term cuts for all income groups, but would lead to higher taxes for lower-income Americans and lower taxes for the wealthy after 10 years.
Neither move was popular with the public. Several surveys from June of 2017 showed the GOP health care bill was supported by less than 20% of registered voters, while a Politico/Morning Consult poll in June of 2018 found that just 37% of registered voters supported the tax cuts.
Democrats have capitalized on this in their campaigns, running ads attacking Republican incumbents who voted for the GOP health care bill, while using the tax cuts as a way to raise concerns about potential cuts to Medicare and Social Security.
In recent days, Trump has responded by making two bold pronouncements that have little grounding in the facts: that Republicans will protect people with pre-existing conditions, and that he is working on a big middle-class tax cut that will be voted on soon.
“We’re going to be putting in a 10 percent tax cut for middle-income families. It’s going to be put in next week,” he told attendees at an Oct. 22 rally in Houston. “We’ve been working on it for a few months, a 10 percent brand-new — and that is in addition to the big tax cuts that you’ve already gotten.”
To say that these claims are fantastical is almost an understatement.
Apart from the failed House health care bill, the Trump Administration has sided with plaintiffs in a lawsuit who are arguing that the Affordable Care Act’s provisions on preexisting conditions are unconstitutional.
A group of 10 Republican senators have introduced a bill that promises to protect coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. But it would remove limits on how much insurers can charge them, and allow insurers to decline to include specific coverage for their condition in the policy they offer that individual — which is why experts say it would not provide much protection.
And there’s simply no plan for the middle-class tax cut that Trump promised. Members of Congress and even some in the White House were unaware of any proposal that Trump was referring to when he made the claim at the Houston rally. Congress isn’t even in session and it has not passed the precursor legislation that would be necessary to even take up a tax cut this year.
In both cases, Trump is essentially admitting that his approach on two signature issues was not popular and may end up costing some Republican lawmakers their jobs in the midterms.
He’s not alone. After repeatedly saying they were going to campaign on the tax cuts in the midterms, Republicans largely abandoned that line of argument, and candidates such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are now making similar claims about protecting people with pre-existing conditions.
Certainly, it would be easier for Trump to admit that he was wrong than to repeatedly make a dubious claim without evidence, which contradicts his own prior actions — and some presidents have used a “thumping” or “shellacking” in the midterms to correct course in just that way.
But Trump has said that admitting mistakes makes you look weak. In his recent book, “Fear,” legendary Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward writes that Trump exploded over the perception that he had backtracked in his much-criticized remarks on the violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
“You never make those concessions,” Trump reportedly told an aide. “You never apologize. I didn’t do anything wrong in the first place. Why look weak?”
Trump has even joked about this tendency in public. After saying that he “really believes” North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un will follow through on promises he made about nuclear weapons, Trump said that he might be wrong.
“I may be wrong and stand before you in six months and say, ‘Hey I was wrong,'” he said. “I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.”
In this case, though, Trump has offered no excuse, nor has he tried to claim that a perceived failure was actually a secret success, another common rhetorical technique he uses.
Instead, he’s simply made two sweeping claims that the truth is the opposite of what it appears to be.