The American right is not done trying to entrench health care’s status as an exclusively free market good: in a short letter to a federal appeals court Monday, Trump’s Justice Department asserted its approval of a district court ruling in December that scrapped the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) on grounds widely seen as legally dubious. Because the Supreme Court upheld the ACA’s individual mandate in 2012, the Texas court concluded that removing the penalty for not carrying health insurance nullified not only the mandate itself, but the entire law, including the expansion of the Medicaid program, subsidies for insurance purchased on state exchanges, and popular regulations curtailing insurers’ most reviled practices, like locking out patients with preexisting conditions.
While the administration’s proactive support for the lower court ruling came as a surprise, its general position did not — after all, the Justice Department already broke precedent in refusing to defend the law against the suit in the first place, leaving the task instead to attorneys general from Democratic states. Still, the short letter — and Trump’s subsequent string of anti-Obamacare statements — sparked chatter among a commentariat aghast that Republicans would once again push a message on health care that was widely blamed for costing them dozens of seats in the 2018 midterm elections. As one GOP strategist reportedly put it to the Daily Beast, “WTF is wrong with them?”
I humbly offer that the answer is the same as WTF has always been wrong with them: the modern GOP’s guiding purpose is to serve as a conduit for the Right’s dream agenda, which is allergic to the merest hint of redistribution downwards. Of course the handful of extraordinarily rich people who manipulate the political system as an instrument of personal wish fulfillment hate Obamacare: however inadequate it was, it levied hundreds of billions in new taxes that fell largely onto the very people the GOP serves. That’s hundreds of billions of missed opportunities to invest in assets that will make them richer as a reward for the magnanimous social contribution of sitting around and owning things, which can in turn bankroll their even tighter grip on the political system to more easily bury inconveniences like the ACA.
The more their strategy succeeds, the richer they get, and the more insulated they are from the repercussions of mass backlash. So what if they lose a few more elections — they’ve already hedged their bets by gerrymandering districts, suppressing votes, and stuffing courts with judges committed to concluding that, yes, the richest people in human history deserve even more than they already have. So what if people die without health care? So what if they riot in the streets? That’s what iron gates and private security is for.
While it remains unclear how far the lawsuit seeking to nullify the ACA will go, “Why would the Trump administration even dream of trying this again?!” is a question so laughably obvious I can’t believe anyone is still asking it. Here’s a hint: every time the Republican Party does anything, it’s because it’s presumed to benefit the richest people on Earth. For any question you could possibly ask about the GOP’s motivations, that answer will literally never be wrong. That’s why they’ve fallen in line behind Trump and gleefully stoke white nationalism to snap up whatever votes it attracts, that’s why they used their legislative majority to ram through massively regressive tax cuts, and that’s why they’ll desperately push the electoral map ever rightward in hopes of bulldozing minimal dissent from flanks of the party that somehow seem moderate by comparison.
Of course Republicans have no alternate health care plan. Their goal was never to build programs, but to strip them clean.