27th March 2017
Losing control of the narrative can cost you dearly...
So much has already been written about the collapse of the attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act that it’s difficult to find a new perspective. But I’m going to try.
My colleagues in DC are better qualified than I to comment on the politics of what went down on Friday, though it seems to me it was a lack of preparation, organization and flexibility, combined with a very effective grassroots opposition that capitalized on the vulnerability of many Representatives’ seats.
But what fascinates me, as a comms person, is the narrative. I mean, where did it all go wrong for those opposed to Obamacare?
For decades, the insurance companies, those in favour of smaller government, and others successfully portrayed attempts at healthcare reform as ‘creeping socialism’, as somehow anti-American. Finally, President Obama succeeded where Clinton had failed, and passed the Affordable Care Act. But in the 2016 election, Donald Trump’s pledge to repeal and replace it was loudly cheered at rallies throughout the country, and once elected, he and Speaker Ryan sought to make good on their promise at the earliest opportunity.
So successful was the 'Obamacare is bad' narrative that as recently as February, a third of Americans did not realize that the much-vilified Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act were actually one and the same. Confronted with the reality that their healthcare provsiion was going to change, more people began to pay attention. And that's when the cracks began to appear.
The Affordable Care Act saw a surge in popularity. Democrats exploited this, and the Republicans lost control of the narrative. And once that happens, it is very hard to win it back.
So, politics aside, what communication lessons can be learned from all this? Four things immediately occur to me:
Speaker Ryan handled the news conference after the non-vote just right, striking a tone of humility when he said “Doing big things is hard”. He will now have to lead recovery efforts for the damaged GOP brand. But that’s a whole other post…
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