WASHINGTON — With 50 days to go before the 2020 election, President Trump is taking his wildest swing yet at the pharmaceutical industry. He’s likely to miss, but that might not matter.
There’s virtually no chance that the policies his administration rolled out on Sunday will save Americans any money on prescription medicines before Election Day. The scheme, to cap how much Medicare pays for drugs based on lower prices in foreign countries, can’t realistically be implemented by Nov. 3. Even if Trump tries a risky regulatory workaround, any changes would almost surely be delayed by a pharmaceutical industry legal challenge.
But the policies might still achieve their intended goal: Ingratiating Trump to voters who see pharmaceutical costs as a key issue. Even if the president’s policies haven’t actually saved Americans money at the pharmacy counter, campaign experts said, his years of aggressive rhetoric and the last-ditch drug pricing ploy could still help him win support.
“It’s a very savvy political move,” said Jon McHenry, the vice president of North Star Opinion Strategies, a Republican-aligned polling firm. “What you see is voters saying: ‘OK, he’s actually trying to do something on drug prices.’ That’s something that the Obama administration didn’t do, that’s something that Congress hasn’t taken on. So he probably does get some credit for following up on something that he said he would do during the  election — without anyone getting to judge, ultimately, whether it’s good policy.”
Trump’s latest drug pricing action follows years of dead-end attempts to regulate lower prices. The pharmaceutical industry successfully blocked a rule that would have forced them to put their prices in television ads. No state has successfully facilitated the importation of cheaper drugs from Canada, despite Trump’s rhetoric. Drug companies have continued to hike list prices for brand-name drugs for much of Trump’s four years in office.
Nonetheless, Trump has repeatedly crowed about one metric that showed a one-time price dip in 2018, and lashed out at the pharmaceutical industry via Twitter. Last month, the Trump campaign launched an aggressive digital ad campaign that casts Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, as the drug industry’s preferred candidate.
The ad blitz and Trump’s aggressive rhetoric, by some measures, have been effective. While voters generally trust Democrats, and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, over Republicans on health policy, one recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll showed Trump held a 46-42 edge over Biden on a single health care issue: drug pricing.
The latest policy rollout is also wildly popular among Trump’s base. A recent poll from McLaughlin & Associates, which did polling work for the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, found that 87% of voters, including 84% of Democrats, support the “most favored…