Healthcare Vote:

SMU political experts Jeffrey Engel and Rita Kirk on what went wrong, and what the GOP will have to do to make it right.

Rita Kirk and Jeffrey Engel

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  Jeffrey EngelJEFFREY ENGEL

On what the postponement of the healthcare vote says about Trump’s presidency…

  • Presidents typically enter office with as much political capital as they are ever going to have and the good will of their party. Trump has neither. When a candidate like Trump runs not only as an outsider, but as an insurgent and revolutionary within his own party, he has no friends or favors to call upon when he needs to whip votes. If a president can’t get something big done in their first few months when they are at their most powerful, they usually won’t get it done.”
    “The GOP might have both houses majorities, but those majorities aren’t big enough that an unpopular president can’t weigh them all down like an anchor.”

On whether it’s fair to draw a parallel from GOP healthcare efforts to Bill Clinton’s attempt to reform healthcare in the 1990s…

  • “The parallel is interesting, but I think Clinton had a different problem. He had his party on his side, but then realized what a complex challenge healthcare is. Voters looked at his plan and said they didn’t like it. Voters look at Trump’s plan and say, ‘What world are you living in?’ So the parallel is useful, but illustrates the bigger problems Trump is having.”

Engel is director of the SMU Center for Presidential History.

Books published:

  • When Life Strikes the White House: Death, Scandal, Sickness and Personal Tragedies in the Oval Office, Jeffrey A. Engel and Thomas J. Knock, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017
  • Into the Desert: Reflections on the Gulf War, Jeffrey A. Engel, ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012
  • Rethinking Leadership and “Whole of Government” National Security Reform, with Joseph R. Cerami. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2010


On the messages sent by postponing the healthcare vote …

  • “The art of the deal isn’t as easy as it looks.”
  • “Sometimes, to get a really good plan you need to move slowly. This rush to get something done within the first 100 days might not be the perfect approach to getting something passed. The politicians who are being asked to vote for this must go back to their districts and win reelection in two years. The flood of constituent emails about the initial American Health Care Act proposal and what people were hearing about their costs going up hasn’t been terribly encouraging.”

On why the GOP didn’t find the healthcare victory it was looking for…

  • “The GOP could have won this if it just had all the Republicans in line, but it didn’t. It was a last-minute effort to recruit votes, and that leads to a power struggle that says, ‘don’t take me for granted.’”
  • “From a communications perspective, the rollout was not well conceived. It wasn’t properly framed in the first place, talking points weren’t clear and the GOP didn’t effectively sell it, so the result was this backlash against the elected officials, and they’re balking now.”

On what lesson the GOP should draw from today…

  • “The lesson is: think before you speak, which is not a hallmark of this administration. But this is where rushing gets you in trouble. You can talk all you want, but when it comes to legislation, it takes more than that.”

Kirk is SMU professor of communication studies and director of the Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility.

Can discuss:

  • sound bite substance
  • undecided voters
  • presidential debates
  • the use of second screens and social media in politics
  • political communications



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