If Donald Trump does manage to stay in office long enough to run for president in 2020, there is new information that shows he has a secret vulnerability which will cause him to lose.
Recently focus groups were done to identify top issues of American voters. And these groups identified an issue that Trump promised he would take care of when he was campaigning, but which has only gotten worse since he took office.
The issue is the price of prescription drugs. And although it may be a “sleeper,” it also may turn out to be the top issue in the 2020 campaign.
More importantly, with this issue Democrats and progressives believe they have found a way to unmask Trump’s phony populism and send him crashing to defeat if he does run again.
Trump’s weakness on the prescription drug issue surfaced by surprise in the series of focus groups that was conducted in key Midwestern states for the trade watchdog group Public Citizen.
They found that working-class white voters who switched from Barack Obama to Trump are deeply angry about soaring prescription drug prices. As a result, they vehemently oppose a key provision benefiting Big Pharma at the core of Trump’s renegotiation of NAFTA — which he touts as proof that he’s delivering for his working-class white base.
The stakes are high. Trump’s hopes for a political rebound turn partly on trade and prescription drug pricing. He talked about both issues in his State of the Union speech, and called on Congress to pass his renegotiation of NAFTA, claiming it will revive manufacturing. In his speech he even named the states that will be crucial to Trump’s reelection: Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Trump has also vowed that it would be a “major priority” for him to “lower the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs.” This represents an attempt by Trump to pivot back to the economic populism he promised in 2016. The truth is that as president, all of his policies have favored the rich and the elite who his working class supporters hate.
The focus groups discovered that trade and prescription drug pricing are linked in a way that severely hurts the president.
Trump’s renegotiated NAFTA agreement expands patent protections for some pharmaceutical drugs to 10 years, shielding them from generic competition. And the focus groups found that the NAFTA Big Pharma provision is “game changing.” This one issue alone could make many “swing” voters swing back from Trump to the Democratic candidate in 2020.
As Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) put it, the new NAFTA is “stuffed with handouts that will let big drug companies lock in the high prices they charge for many drugs,” gouging “seniors and anyone else who needs access to life-saving medicine.”
Working-class whites in the focus groups agreed. These voters “hate” pharmaceutical companies and are deeply convinced that high drug prices are the result of their political influence. They think that big corporations rig market rules — and drug prices — in their favor.
These voters “especially distrust the way that corporations bend the system to their will,” with lobbyists and big campaign donations,“ so that they can earn more profits while hurting workers and consumers.”
As one 2016 Trump voter put it: “They are buying their laws, basically.”
People running the focus groups were surprised by the depth of emotion about pharmaceutical companies and drug prices. They noted that they “emerged as an extraordinary point of anger.”
The result: Pointing to the Big Pharma provision constitutes the “single most powerful argument” against Trump’s NAFTA rewrite.
If this provision is this unpopular, it provides a weapon for Democrats to force Trump to accept big progressive changes to the NAFTA renegotiation. And this will be a major battle in Congress in the coming months.
This also underscores how politically important — and treacherous — the issue of prescription drug prices will be in next year’s elections.
Democrats are pushing forward multiple policies to reduce those prices — a goal that has bipartisan support — and one key policy tool is to weaken pharmaceutical patent protections.
With Trump vowing to prioritize drug prices, the fact that his new NAFTA revision gives massive financial benefits to Big Pharma will provide his 2020 opponent with the ammunition needed to make a broader argument against his reelection. Which is this: Trump is not a populist, and he has not kept his promises.
The focus groups found some trust in Trump on trade, but the NAFTA provision on drug prices reinforced a “doubt” about Trump among many swing voters that he is “looking out for rich CEOs and business executives like himself.”
In other words, these swing voters are now open to the argument that Trump is helping big companies — especially drug companies — further rig the system.
All Democrats have to do is convince these crucial swing voters that Trump’s promises to take on powerful, entrenched corporate and financial interests turned out to be nothing but a big scam. And given the president’s track record, that should be very easy to do.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.