Where Did Trump Come Up With His New, Bizarre Lie About How He Saved Coverage for Preexisting Conditions?

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 09: U.S. President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House on January 9, 2020 in Washington, DC. President Trump attended a campaign rally in Toledo, Ohio on Thursday evening. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Michael Bloomberg has been filling up the airwaves with campaign ads reminding voters that Donald Trump attempted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, including its incredibly popular protections for patients with preexisting health conditions. The spots must have been getting under our president’s skin, because on Monday he responded with a brief and surreal flight of fabulism on Twitter. Behold:

No. You are not hallucinating. Donald Trump now claims that he personally saved Obamacare’s patient protections, and that it is he, not the Democrats who enacted them, who will continue to guard these beloved regulations.

You can call it chutzpah. Or gaslighting. Or whatever. The claim is absurd on its face. Trump supported the GOP’s many attempts to repeal and sort-of-replace Obamacare, basically all of which would have either weakened or outright eviscerated the law’s protections for preexisting conditions. Currently, his administration is arguing in court that the entire Affordable Care Act—including its preexisting condition protections—is unconstitutional and should be struck down. That is the very lawsuit he referenced in his tweet.

But while destroying Obamacare has been a central goal of years of Republican policy-making and policy-breaking, that goal is a wildly unpopular one. So, evidently the president would like Americans to believe that if Republicans triumph in court, they’ll restore the heart of the law that they’ve worked to dismantle by any means necessary.

What’s kind of interesting about this particular lie is that Trump has been building toward it for a while. As they attempted to repeal Obamacare in 2017, Republicans promised that their various replacement plans would continue protecting patients with preexisting health problems—which again, wasn’t really true (even ideas that would have technically left the ACA’s patient protections in place took steps to significantly undermine them). Later, in 2018, while Republicans were getting drubbed over health care, Trump tried to turn the tables on the issue entirely by claiming Democrats were the one threatening sick Americans. “We will always protect Americans with preexisting conditions,” Trump told a rally crowd that October. “We’re going to take care of them. Some of the Democrats have been talking about ending preexisting conditions.” (No, they had not). In a USA Today op-ed several days later, he inched the lie forward:

As a candidate, I promised that we would protect coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions and create new health care insurance options that would lower premiums. I have kept that promise, and we are now seeing health insurance premiums coming down.

This claim—that he had kept his promise to protect the sick, somehow—was one step away from his new claim to have actively “saved” the preexisting-conditions rules. He’s been building out this particular lie, brick by brick, for years. The only question is whether Trump himself believes any of this. Has he repeated it so many times to himself that he thinks it’s a fact? Or is he just hoping his audience will?