Opinion: The deeply unsettling reason that explains Trump’s attacks on Obamacare

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Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” Follow him on Threads. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.

Former President Donald Trump is increasingly focusing on an unachieved objective from his days in the White House: repealing Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Dean Obeidallah - CNN
Dean Obeidallah - CNN

Trump raised the issue of getting rid of Obamacare in a social media post over the Thanksgiving weekend. He followed it up last week with another post about Obamacare, this time vowing to “replace it” with something “much better.”

“America will have one of the best Healthcare Plans anywhere in the world,” Trump wrote. And during a campaign stop in Iowa on Saturday, the former president again drilled down on this latest fixation, calling Obamacare “a disaster” and promising “to do something about it.”

These recent remarks have stunned some political pundits, among them Republican strategists who fear the comments will hurt the GOP in the 2024 election, given the wide popularity of the ACA.

It’s a risky political move, but Trump’s latest attacks on Obamacare are notable for another reason: If the past is any guide, it is highly unlikely that he actually has a “fantastic” healthcare plan in the works.

Trump made a similar pledge to do away with Obamacare throughout his 2016 presidential campaign. Once elected, Trump repeatedly promised that he would deliver a “phenomenal” health care plan. It was a promise he made right through to the closing months of his presidency and failed to follow through on.

The truth is, Trump’s latest vow to repeal Obamacare is not about policy. Trump has other aims.

First, he believes going after the signature achievement of President Obama plays well with his base. The ACA has the support of nearly 60% of Americans, so it might seem an unlikely target of political attack — except for the fact that Obama was extremely unpopular with the GOP base. Among Republicans, only 18%  approved of how Obama handled his two terms in the White House.

Second, Trump has long appeared obsessed with attacking — and if at all possible undoing — Obama’s legacy.

When Obama left office in January 2017, a CNN poll showed him with a 60% approval rating, landing him near the top of the list of presidential approval ratings upon leaving office. In contrast, Trump left office with a 34% approval rating — the lowest of his term. Those numbers must stick in the craw of a braggadocious man who has always seemed obsessed with being the biggest and the best.

Trump may also be engaged in a classic maneuver of political sleight of hand: The more the media talks about Obamacare, the less press attention there might be on the 91 criminal charges he’s facing.

But there’s another, deeply unsettling possible motive: A racial component may be at play in Trump’s attacks on the legacy of the first Black president.

Some pundits have long expressed the view that Trump often appears to be driven by racism and that a similar motivation may be part of the thinking of his MAGA followers. Trump understands his base better than any of us and — as a master of political divisiveness — he surely knows that attacking Obama will please his supporters.

From Trump’s failure to denounce white supremacists until being shamed into doing so, to his repeated attacks on prominent Black figures, his demonization of the Black Lives Matter movement as a “symbol of hate,” his re-sharing of social media posts written by white supremacists, his excoriation of immigrants from what he called “shithole countries” — on and on — racial insult never seemed far from Trump’s agenda. Vowing to erase the signature achievement of America’s first and only Black president would be very much up in the same vein.

Trump sought to undermine President Obama starting with his 2011 racist and false “birther campaign” seeking to cast Obama as an illegitimate president. Trump said in April 2011 on NBC’s Today show: “I have people that have been studying [Obama’s birth certificate] and they cannot believe what they’re finding…” He added, “If he wasn’t born in this country, which is a real possibility…then he has pulled one of the great cons in the history of politics.”

Trump even claimed in 2011 without evidence that Obama was a “terrible student” and questioned how he could have been accepted at two Ivy League bastions, Columbia University and Harvard Law, both schools from which Obama graduated. He then demanded Obama release his school records.

And of course, it’s hard to forget the 2011 White House Correspondents Association Dinner, where Obama comically embarrassed Trump. Some have opined that this comedic smackdown fueled Trump’s run for the White House as well as the grudge he appears to have nursed ever since.

The more the media covers policy debates involving Trump, the more it helps him seem like a normal political candidate and not the “clear and present danger to American democracy” that J. Michael Luttig, a former GOP-appointed federal appeals court judge, warned us that Trump remains.

Trump’s efforts to target Obamacare are not about providing Americans better health care. After all, he had four years in the White House to do that. It’s really about helping one person: Donald J. Trump, the only person the former president really seems to care about.

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