On Friday morning, as President Donald Trump made a last-ditch Twitter effort to convince House conservatives to vote for the Republican health care plan, Breitbart News — usually Trump’s biggest cheerleader — chose to run a piece headlined: “Report: Steve Bannon Says American Health Care Act ‘Written by the Insurance Industry.’”
The Breitbart report shared a post from New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman about how White House chief strategist and former Breitbart executive Bannon had “privately expressed concern that the American Health Care Act (AHCA) betrays the populist voters who put Donald Trump in the White House.”
The narrative Breitbart’s post is pushing (that the health bill is bad) is in direct contrast to Trump’s messaging on the bill, and articulates a growing tension playing out in the White House and on Capitol Hill between the GOP’s most conservative critics and a party leadership desperately trying to repeal Obamacare.
On one hand, Trump wants a victory, and the ability to tell voters he repealed and replaced Obamacare. On the other hand, the bill on the table is toughest on Trump’s voter base — it repeals the Medicaid expansion that many working-class whites newly depend on and would cut back marketplace subsidies in rural areas where health care is most expensive. The conservative group Heritage Action, which is usually a key indicator for how hardcore conservatives might vote, also hardened its opposition to the revised bill on Thursday.
Set for a vote Friday afternoon, the American Health Care Act looks increasingly shy of the 215 House votes it needs to pass to the Senate, a sign that the party’s rightmost contingent, although a minority, might be a loud enough voice in the room to stop the bill from moving forward.
Breitbart, AHCA, and Trump make for a weird triangle
Ever since House Republican dropped the American Health Care Act, Breitbart has been faced with a dilemma. Ideologically it can’t get behind the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, but Trump has actively endorsed the plan.
Faced with the choice of backing the White House or sticking to ultra-conservative principles, Breitbart has chosen a funny combination of decrying a bad bill and steering the blame clear of Trump.
Instead Breitbart’s enemy No. 1 on health care is House Speaker Paul Ryan. In other words, this bill isn’t Trumpcare, or simply the American Health Care Act — it’s “Speaker Ryan’s Obamacare-lite.” With that frame, Breitbart has not shied away from tearing apart the plan’s merits. Just look at its health care headlines:
- “Polls: Ryancare Even More Unpopular Than Obamacare and Hillarycare,” a readout of recent polls showing that even Trump’s base views AHCA unfavorably.
- “7 Reasons Why Obamacare 2.0 is all but guaranteed to impose crushing costs on voters, hurt Trump’s base, and hand power back to the Democrats,” a scathing point-by-point takedown of the bill. “Remember when a progressive group put out an ad showing Paul Ryan pushing a grandma in a wheelchair off a cliff? Obamacare 2.0 gives the media and the Democrats a golden opportunity to walk away from their healthcare mess and blame Republicans, and amplify that message endlessly,” the article read.
- “Report: Paul Ryan’s Plan could Force 15 Million To Lose Health Care Coverage,” highlighting a Brookings Institution report that analyzed the bill’s affects on uninsured numbers, prior to the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate.
Trump may have endorsed the bill, but Breitbart is trying to make sure his base doesn’t blame him if the bill fails — or if it passes and proves detrimental to his voter base.
And blaming Ryan is easy — Bannon has never been a fan.