There’s a lot of talk about the role of money in politics. But even today, the currency that the president trades most in is trust. He needs members of his own party to trust that his leadership will benefit them politically. He needs members of the opposition party to trust that he can deliver votes on any promises he makes. And most importantly, he needs voters, to believe that what he tells them in the campaign will become a reality in the White House.
The fumbling of the Obamacare website, along with broken promises that the law would lower the cost of health insurance and allow people to keep their plan if they liked it, has fundamentally damaged Obama’s credibility.
House Republicans never trusted him. That trust gap was exacerbated by his decision to move the goal posts in negotiations with Boehner over the debt limit. And it has been solidified by this debacle of a rollout.
Obama’s bigger problem is that his rapidly-shrinking election-year coattails could put increasing distance between his administration and his allies in Congress. POLITICO reports that “the Obamacare debacle has been bad enough that it’s tough for Democrats to take on faith that the president can fix the problems.”
One previously supportive Democrat went so far as to say, “I don’t know how he f—ed this up so badly.”
Many voters are similarly circumspect. A new Gallup poll finds that only fifty-percent of Americans say the label “honest and trustworthy” applies to President Obama. That’s a steep drop from his first term when his trustworthiness rating hovered around 60 percent. A Quinnipiac poll shows things may be even worse. Following President Obama’s broken “if you like it, you can keep it” promise, Obama’s trustworthiness rating plummeted from 54 percent to 44 percent.
And as John Dickerson writes for Slate, once credibility is lost, it is very difficult to get back:
That’s the natural state of things. President Obama has a particular challenge. He is in a hunkered marathon of damage control. His signature achievement as president is in trouble, polls show Americans trust him less than they ever did, and he’s at that stage in his presidency where his legacy is beginning to be defined. Even the most pure-hearted pilgrim would have to lash himself to the mast to keep from engaging in spin to manage these problems. But when you spin in the middle of a credibility crisis, the garden-variety shadings required by the office can make your problem worse. That’s bad for the president’s standing and for his party, but it’s also bad because it means everything the president says gets a downgrade. If no one listens or believes you, it’s hard to make the case for any good news.
One way to slowly rebuild trust is to begin following through on the post-crisis promises you have made. In the White House’s case that means making sure that the website is up and running soon.
“We are confident that by the end of the month of November, Healthcare.gov will operate smoothly,” former White House budget director and go-to problem-fixer Jeff Zients told the press.
It was a promise echoed by Vice President Biden and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
“We assumed that it was up and ready to run,” Biden told HLN. “But the good news is although it’s not – and we apologize for that – we are confident by the end of November it’ll be, and there’ll still be plenty of time for people to register and get online.”
One would think, given the tatters that remains of their credibility, that the Obama Administration would no longer be in the business of making promises that they couldn’t possibly keep. Apparently, you’d be wrong. The Washington Post reports:
Software problems with the federal online health insurance marketplace, especially in handling high volumes, are proving so stubborn that the system is unlikely to work fully by the end of the month as the White House has promised, according to an official with knowledge of the project.
Later reports suggest even worse news. Even though the White House’s tech contractors are going through their “punch list,” they’ve only been successful in repairing about six of every 10 problems that have been addressed. And every fix seems to be uncovering knew problems. A CMS phone call with reporters indicated that “tech workers are finding new capacity problems later in the application process – one that, up until now, they didn’t know about.”
Looks like that credibility crisis could be getting worse.