The Memo: Mueller, health care set the stage for 2020

Two huge developments in recent days will reverberate all the way to Election Day 2020, according to political insiders on both sides of the aisle.

The findings of the Mueller investigation and the Trump administration’s decision to push for the full destruction of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) set the table for a fierce 2020 campaign.

Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerLewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network Mueller report fades from political conversation MORE’s verdict that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is already being seized upon by the president to say that he was right all along: Democrats and a pliant media were conspiring against him.


Trump is expected to bang that drum loudly at a rally scheduled for  Thursday evening in Grand Rapids, Mich.

One source in Trump’s orbit who has spoken with the president in recent days said Trump was “very happy with the outcome” of the Mueller probe, which the source characterized as a “massive validation of everything the president has talked about” since the special counsel was appointed in May 2017.

Still, if Democrats were deflated by the initial findings from Mueller as conveyed in a four-page letter from Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrFeinstein calls on Justice to push for release of Trump whistleblower report Clarence Thomas, Joe Manchin, Rudy Giuliani among guests at second state visit under Trump Democrats to seek ways to compel release of Trump whistleblower complaint MORE, they were swiftly revived by the push to have ObamaCare struck down, which they see as an extraordinary own goal by the White House.

“It’s the single most inexplicable decision I have seen in a very long time,” said veteran Democratic strategist Robert Shrum.

Shrum, like many Democrats, believes that the debate over health care was a major reason why his party won back control of the House in November.

Republicans critical of Trump, meanwhile, were aghast at the administration’s move.

“It’s almost as if the president studies ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” said John “Mac” Stipanovich, a longtime GOP lawyer and lobbyist in Florida who served as chief of staff to Gov. Bob Martinez (R).

“He had this huge bump [from Mueller], and he can’t enjoy his moment in the sun for 48 hours without heading down the road that contributed mightily to the loss of the House in 2018,” Stipanovich said.

For now, the president is not for turning.


On Wednesday, asked about the Justice Department’s call for all of the ACA to be struck down, Trump blasted former President Obama’s signature domestic achievement as a “disaster.”

Trump insisted that “if the Supreme Court rules that ObamaCare is out, we’ll have a plan that is far better than ObamaCare.”

It is not at all clear what such a plan might look like. One of the things that doomed the administration’s initial push to repeal the 2010 law in Congress was the lack of an agreed alternative. This was one of the factors behind the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainAmerica's newest comedy troupe: House GOP Michelle Malkin knocks Cokie Roberts shortly after her death: 'One of the first guilty culprits of fake news' Arizona Democratic Party will hold vote to censure Sinema MORE (R-Ariz.) casting the now-famous and pivotal “thumbs-down” vote that continues to rile the president to this day.

Republicans in Congress have been lukewarm on the administration’s latest health care move.

Privately, GOP sources say there is near-unanimity between the “establishment” and conservative wings of the party on the topic. While many Republican lawmakers would like to repeal the ACA on policy grounds, they are not eager to have that debate amid a white-hot presidential election cycle.

Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren overtakes Biden in Iowa for first time: poll The polls are asking the wrong question Sanders unveils plan to eliminate Americans' medical debt MORE (I-Vt.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisWarren overtakes Biden in Iowa for first time: poll Iowa GOP swipes at 2020 Democrats' meat positions as candidates attend annual Steak Fry Warren avoids attacks while building momentum MORE (D-Calif.), have already made the expansion of health care coverage a central point in their campaigns. A move by the Supreme Court to strike down the ACA could give renewed impetus to their efforts.

Despite the emotive power of the health care issue, some Trump loyalists argue that it is the Mueller report that will be the longer-running and more politically potent story.

Asked whether the president had stomped on his own good Mueller news with the shift toward health care, Republican strategist and former Trump White House official Andy Surabian demurred.

“That’s a little overstated, because if you ask anyone what the big political story of this week is, they are going to say: ‘No collusion with Russia,’ ” Surabian told The Hill.

He added that Mueller’s verdict “energizes his core supporters, who might have been a little deflated after the immigration fight. And I think, broadly speaking ... the collusion vindication is going to color a lot of the messaging of other issues moving forward.”

The source who had recently spoken with Trump insisted that Mueller’s findings would be vitally important in 2020 because of the way they underline some of the president’s themes — and undercut trust in the media.

“Here’s why it’s relevant: Because in 2015 and 2016 the media narrative was, Trump couldn’t win. He won. The media narrative in 2018 and 2019 was, he colluded with Russia. He didn’t,” this source said.

“The biggest loser in all of this is the media. If there really are [negative] stories in the 2020 cycle, they’re going to find it much more difficult to get the American people to believe them,” the source added.

Even “Never Trump” Republicans like Stipanovich acknowledged that activists in both parties who are opposed to the president are going to have to reset as they look toward the 2020 election.

“For two years, the opposition to Trump has been organized around the Mueller investigation,” Stipanovich said. “That has not produced the result that the anti-Trump partisans wanted. No, he didn’t get a free pass. Yes, he has plenty of other problems. But where do they go from here?”

The health care debate might yet provide the answer.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAlaska Republican Party cancels 2020 primary Ukrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' MORE’s presidency.