Does Trump’s fake populism die on the health care reform hill?

Saying different things to different audiences is not a rare practice for politicians, but depending on how spectacularly they get caught doing it, it can be costly.

In public comments, Greg Gianforte, a Republican running for an open House seat in Montana, has declined to answer questions about his support for the TrumpCare bill passed last week. However, during a private conference call with Republican-leaning lobbyists, Gianforte said, “The votes in the House are going to determine whether we get tax reform done, sounds like we just passed a health care thing, which I’m thankful for, sounds like we’re starting to repeal and replace.” He’s thankful for that.

On the one hand, Republicans love to hate ObamaCare. On the other, the repeal of OCare is not just an idea but potentially a policy action that could take away benefits people need.  And many of those people, crazy as it is, voted for Trump.

Montana is a curious state, they vote  Republican in presidential elections but are very comfortable voting for Democrats in state-wide elections.

Health care reform may be the most interesting thing that has happened to date in Trump’s presidency. There is no doubt that Trump successfully flipped the traditional partisan narrative that Democrats are for the little guy and Republicans are for Wall Street, the Banks, and other power centres. Republicans are trying very hard to baffle voters with talk about how great TrumpCare will be, but the funny thing about entitlement programs is that either people receive the benefit or they don’t.  Either “little guys” all over America get to keep their health care, or they lose it so billionaires can get tax breaks.

TrumpCare puts the lie to the populist narrative, and Republicans are starting to figure that out, hence their reluctance to own it publicly.

The Montana special election isn’t getting as much attention as the House special election in Georgia, and in all likelihood the GOP will hold Republican Ryan Zinke’s (now Trump’s Interior Secretary) seat. But they are not taking any chances as they recognize how disastrous it would be to start losing safe Republican seats. For example, VP Mike Pence will be visiting soon.

Rob Quist, the Democratic candidate, who is almost always described as folksinger turned-novice-candidate,  probably doesn’t inspire must confidence, but this one, like Georgia, will be about Trump.

Quist is raising money largely due to online donors. In an audio recording obtained by the New York Times of Gianforte’s teleconfere call he said, “The Democrats have fired up this ActBlue organization. We’re seeing about $70,000 a day pouring into the state from liberals in San Francisco, New York and Hollywood.” So there’s that.

Mr. Gianforte is leading in the race, but only narrowly.

“We’re in a single-digit race,” he said, adding that the left would relish the symbolic importance of snatching a Republican-held House seat. “The Democrats would like nothing more than to put one up on the board and take this away from us to stop the Trump Train and block tax reform and block the regulations we’ll be able to peel back.”

Sure, Gianforte is trolling for support so is bound to sound desperate, but the election is on May 25th, which will probably put it right in the middle of news about a potentially damaging Congressional Budget Office score of the House health care bill, and the beginnings of discussions in the Senate to keep the issue fresh.

Could be interesting.

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