On Thursday morning, “Fox & Friends” ran an interview with President Donald Trump in which he simply didn’t tell the truth about the state of Republican attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare.
“Health care didn’t go down,” Trump insisted. “We have the votes.”
This is – strictly speaking – not true. It’s also, loosely speaking, not true.
The facts are these. There are three Republican “no” votes on the legislation put forward by Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. No one – including Graham and Cassidy – dispute that fact. Given that there are only 52 Republican senators, when you lose three of their votes, you don’t have 50. You have 49.
It’s why Senate Republican leaders called off the vote planned for this week. They don’t have the votes. The end.
Now, could they, as Trump also seems to sort-of claim, get the votes sometime early next year? Sure!
Anything is possible and, because Arizona Sen. John McCain’s stated objection to the legislation is that it isn’t moving through so-called “regular order” (a slow process of hearings, mark-ups and amendment voting) and there is a theory on Capitol Hill that more time could bring him on board.
But even if McCain goes from “no” to “yes,” it’s still not clear that Trump, as he claims, has the votes. A trio of Republican senators – Mike Lee (Utah), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) – has not announced any sort of position on Graham-Cassidy. And Murkowski was one of the three GOP senators – along with McCain and Susan Collins – who voted against “skinny repeal” back in late July.
All of that is in the hypothetical realm, however. There is zero factual evidence that Trump’s claim that “we have the votes” is even close to true. Ditto his repeated – and still false – claim that a) Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran is in the hospital (he isn’t!) and b) that if Cochran could make it to DC to vote (he can!) then the votes for Graham-Cassidy would be there (they wouldn’t!).
It’s beyond debate then that saying “we have the votes” for health care repeal or insisting that it didn’t “go down” is a textbook case of Trump promoting fake news. The bigger question is why.
The answer, I think, lies in the same motivation that led Trump to delete a series of tweets supportive of Alabama Sen. Luther Strange following his loss to Roy Moore in Tuesday’s special election runoff.
Trump is obsessed with winning. But, more than that, he is obsessed with maintaining his appearances as a life-long winner. Winners don’t admit defeat. Winners don’t acknowledge weakness. Even if both are staring you right in the face.
This doesn’t make sense because, well, it’s not a rational thing. Trump has to know in some corner of his mind that simply by deleting his tweets supporting Strange he won’t make his support for the guy who lost disappear. He also has to suspect that by declaring that he won on health care doesn’t make it true.
But, throughout his life, Trump has been telling himself the story of his life. It’s a story of conquests and victories over weaker men. A perfect record of wins made all the more gratifying by the fact that everyone always said he wouldn’t win. He succeeds in spite of all the losers and the haters.
To be fair, Trump has had a lot of success in his life. While there is an active dispute over how wealthy he is, there is no dispute that he is wealthy. And, while there are disputes about the manner by which he was elected president, there is no dispute that he is now one of only 44 men in history to hold the country’s top job.
There is no one, of course, who has never lost, never faced a setback, never guessed wrong. But, in the story of Trump that Trump is forever telling himself, he’s never set a foot wrong. He was right about the war in Iraq. (History and past statements suggest he was not.) He was right about the threat posed by terrorists. He was right about Charlottesville. He’s right about the NFL owners being “afraid” to speak out against their players.
And he is right about health care because, after all, how can someone who always gets it right be wrong?
The facts tell a different story on health care. But, as the 2016 campaign and his first eight months in the White House have shown, Trump has little concern for established facts. The story he tells himself is always better than the one the facts tell. So that’s the one he chooses to believe.