Donald Trump’s supporters, in conservative writer Salena Zito’s memorable formulation, take him seriously but not literally.
They will be forgiving if, say, he doesn’t literally get Mexico to pay for a border wall, or if he doesn’t literally ban all Muslims from entering the United States.
But in other areas, Trump’s supporters perhaps should have taken him literally – because they now may have a serious problem.
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Vox senior editor Sarah Kliff wrote a poignant account last week of her visit to Whitley County, Ky., where the uninsured rate declined 60 percent under Obamacare but 82 percent of voters supported Trump. There, Kliff, a former Post colleague, found Trump voters who were downright frightened that the president-elect would do exactly – literally – what he and Republicans promised: repeal Obamacare.
Among those she found was Trump voter Debbie Mills, a store owner whose husband awaits a lifesaving liver transplant; they got insurance through Obamacare, and Mills is hoping the law won’t be repealed.
“I don’t know what we’ll do if it does go away,” Mills said. “I guess I thought that, you know, (Trump) would not do this. That they would not do this, would not take the insurance away. Knowing that it’s affecting so many people’s lives. I mean, what are you to do then if you cannot … purchase, cannot pay for the insurance?”
Mills, who supported Trump for other reasons, figured Obamacare repeal was just talk. “I guess we really didn’t think about that, that he was going to cancel that or change that or take it away,” she said. “I guess I always just thought that it would be there. I was thinking that once it was made into a law that it could not be changed.”
Others who didn’t take Trump literally may soon face the same dilemma. The Urban Institute estimated this month that under the partial repeal plan previously passed by Republicans in Congress, 30 million people would lose insurance, 82 percent of them would be in working families and 56 percent would be white. Among adults who would lose insurance, 80 percent don’t have college degrees.
“The people hit the hardest are a lot of the demographics that went heavily for Trump,” observes Bob Greenstein, who runs the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal number-crunching group.
And it’s not just Obamacare. Take – literally – Trump’s “Penny Plan,” which would reduce non-defense discretionary spending by 1 percent each year for 10 years. It’s one of the more modest of Trump’s promises, yet Greenstein’s group calculates that, once inflation is factored in, it would require the government to cut by a third what it spends on such things as cancer and medical research, highways, air traffic, the Coast Guard, job training, education, Pell Grants, housing, energy, child care and food assistance, the administration of Social Security and Medicare, national parks, NASA, the IRS, Congress and the courts.
Take literally Trump’s promise to exempt public safety, and other cuts would have to be even deeper.
Many of the functions that would necessarily face the ax under Trump’s promises – job training, education, child-care assistance and the like – benefit groups that were Trump’s strongest supporters. The cuts would disproportionately hurt red states in the South, mountains and plains that receive far more in federal spending than they pay in taxes.
Such actions, undertaken by Trump and his Cabinet of billionaires, bankers and business tycoons, could cause some of those working-class Trump supporters to regret that they didn’t take Trump’s campaign utterances literally.
Already, GOP lawmakers are trying to soften the blow. The current GOP plan to eliminate Obamacare is repeal and delay: postponing implementation of the repeal by as long as three years.
How would things work after repeal? As a preview of post-Obamacare treatment, Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga offered a personal example to the Michigan news site Mlive: When his son injured his arm, he saved money by not taking him to an emergency room, instead visiting a doctor the next day and discovering that it was broken.
Delaying treatment of a broken arm?
Trump backers such as those Kliff met in Kentucky may have reason to regret they didn’t take Trump literally before. Mills, the woman whose husband awaits a liver transplant, said she was frightened to learn Obamacare could be repealed without a replacement in hand: “I’m afraid now that the insurance is going to go away and we’re going to be up a creek.”
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.