Taking a cue from Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis—the Florida governor and Republican presidential candidate—has announced his intention to “replace and supersede” the Affordable Care Act with a “totally different health care plan.” But DeSantis, who made the comments in an interview that aired Sunday with NBC’s Meet the Press, could not say what would supplant the program that’s relied upon by roughly 40 million Americans. And when asked for specifics, he only mustered a teaser to a “big proposal” his campaign plans to roll out in the spring.
It was nearly a carbon copy of Trump’s recent promise to undo the ACA. The former president has insisted that his alternative would be “much better” than the current program. However, like DeSantis, he has not said what would replace it.
Trump’s comments, which he doubled down on at a rally in Iowa over the weekend, are baffling for a few reasons. Earlier in the race, the former president had sought to portray DeSantis as a threat to domestic spending programs and vowed to defend Social Security and Medicaid from future cuts. But with his assault on the ACA, similar criticisms can now be lobbed at Trump, despite his caveat that he does not “want to terminate Obamacare.”
Meanwhile, the ACA enjoys high approval marks among the public, making it a risky target—and one that Trump has little to gain from homing in on. After all, he currently leads his GOP challengers by more than 30 points nationally and at least 25 points in the states that will host the first three GOP primary contests. Indeed, Trump’s renewed attacks on the ACA have only served to provide ammunition for his rivals across the political spectrum. “Didn’t he promise to do that back in 2016?” DeSantis chirped during a weekend stop in Iowa, alluding to Trump’s campaign promise of repealing Obamacare. “I don’t think he got that one done.”
On the other side of the aisle, the Biden campaign recently noted that “more than one in 10 Americans” have health insurance through the ACA, and bashed Trump for angling to “rip it away if he returns to power.” DeSantis, too, received a jab from the Democratic National Committee, which pounced on the anti-Obamacare talk from both Republican candidates. “If Ron DeSantis, Donald Trump, and MAGA Republicans have their way, they’d send premiums skyrocketing to line the pockets of greedy health care executives and their wealthy buddies,“ DNC press secretary Sarafina Chitika said Saturday.
Even Senate Republicans, a group notorious for their dogged pursuit of entitlement cuts, appear perplexed by Trump’s revival of a spending debate that now feels like ancient history. “I’m for lowering costs and making our health care system more efficient, but I’m not sure,” John Thune, the Senate Republican whip, said last week, per The Hill. “I’d want to know what the proposal is.” Bill Cassidy, the ranking Republican on the Senate Health Committee, all but dismissed Trump’s interest in gutting the ACA, saying that “it’s unlikely to happen.”
As for DeSantis, he has nothing to lose by going after the ACA. His political stardom has been steadily shrinking since he first launched his presidential campaign last spring. In New Hampshire and South Carolina, he now not only trails Trump but also Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor. To make up for these deficits, he has adopted a more combative style of campaigning, as evidenced by his appearance on Meet the Press. “This is part of a pattern,” as the governor said, “where [Trump is] running on things that he didn’t do.”
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