For Democrats, the new Republican health care plan poses an early strategic question: how to take on Donald Trump in a traditional policy arena, crafting a response that not only undermines his appeal, but broadens their own.
On Thursday, the party’s leading super PAC, Priorities USA, will test one approach with a six-figure digital ad campaign depicting the bill as a betrayal of working Americans and a boon to the 1%, according to an official with the group.
This ad buy is the PAC’s second and largest of the Trump presidency, reaching voters in nine states, including Alaska and Maine, where Republican U.S. senators such as Maine’s Susan Collins could be decisive in defeating the bill.
The ads present the plan as a broken promise to Trump’s own voters, and a policy that serves “millionaires and insurance industry CEOs,” the official said, at the expense in particular of young people and people over the age of 50. The two demographic groups are the main target of the ad campaign.
The ads are also running in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, Nevada, and Arizona, intended to voters in key 2018 midterm elections.
Patrick McHugh, the executive director of the PAC, described the campaign as an effort to “make sure voters know whose side Donald Trump is really on.”
As Trump pursues his legislative agenda, working alongside Republican leaders in Congress, Democrats are facing unfamiliar terrain after their approach in last year’s general election. Hillary Clinton’s campaign focused almost entirely on questions about Trump’s qualifications and character, a strategy that shifted the debate away from policy, and in fact avoided associating Trump with Republicanism at all.
This is Priorities USA’s first policy-focused ad buy since the election, when officials and donors aligned with group, led by longtime Democratic operative Guy Cecil, started to reimagine their mission under a Trump presidency. Now, what began largely as a vehicle for TV ads, first to support for Barack Obama in 2012, then Hillary Clinton in 2016, has widened the scope of its portfolio, working on projects ranging from voting law to studying the critical Obama-turned-Trump voter.
Priorities USA has launched one other digital campaign this new year, aimed at encouraging Democrats to join protests at town halls at the height of the fight over Trump’s cabinet picks. The group has not run ads on television since 2016.
The health care ads highlight some of the new provisions in what Democrats are calling “Trumpcare,” which the White House has backed in partnership with House Republican leadership. The plan is already facing tough odds in Congress amid concerns from both conservatives and some moderate Republicans.
The Priorities USA campaign takes issue in particular with one major change in the GOP plan: setting the cap on what insurers can charge older Americans at five times more than what they charge young people. Under the existing Affordable Care Act, the cap was slightly lower, set at three times more. The new cap, intended to lower premiums, are billed by Priorities USA as an “age tax,” the PAC official said.
The group is also targeting GOP efforts to encourage young people to buy their own insurance. Their plan retains the provision allowing adults up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ plan, but does not include an individual mandate to buy insurance.
Republicans say the move will help control costs. Priorities USA ads argue it will result in young people paying more or lose their insurance completely.