NASHVILLE — President Trump plans to travel to the Music City on Wednesday for his first campaign rally since the release of health-care legislation that would replace the Affordable Care Act and, according to federal officials, result in millions of people losing their health insurance.
Which has prompted some locals to wonder: why Nashville?
It has nothing to do with health care. Trump is coming to town to celebrate the 250th birthday of Andrew Jackson, the controversial seventh president who embraced populism and has been compared to the current president.
The Hermitage — as Jackson's mansion is called — has shut down for the day and canceled plans for an event that was expected to attract thousands of visitors. Trump plans to visit late in the afternoon, lay a wreath on Jackson's tomb, take a tour and learn more about Jackson.
Although a portrait of Jackson now hangs in the Oval Office, Trump's comments on the former president have been vague at best. During a town hall in April, Trump said that “Andrew Jackson had a great history.” While giving the hosts of “Fox & Friends” a tour of the Oval Office late last month, Trump explained why he selected the portrait of Jackson: “They say that his campaign and his whole thing was most like mine. That was interesting. … That's the great Andrew Jackson, who actually was a great general, and he was a great president — but a controversial president.”
The White House's premier Jackson history buff seems to be Stephen K. Bannon, the president's chief strategist who frequently references Jackson in describing his vision for the future of the country. Soon after the election, Bannon told the Hollywood Reporter: “Like Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement. The conservatives are going to go crazy.” On Inauguration Day, Bannon again invoked Jackson.
“I don’t think we’ve had a speech like that since Andrew Jackson came to the White House,” Bannon said at the time. “But you could see it was very Jacksonian. It’s got a deep, deep root of patriotism there.”
Jackson, the son of Irish immigrants, was considered “the people's president,” and he approached the presidency in a dramatically different way than presidents before him, acting on his own beliefs and using the full power of the office to take swift action. He cracked down on corruption, replaced many federal officials and paid off the national debt. Jackson also forced Native American nations to move west of the Mississippi River, a ruthless relocation that became known as the “Trail of Tears.” For this reason, along with Jackson's support of slavery, the administration of former president Barack Obama called for Jackson to be removed from the $20 bill, a decision that Trump at the time called “pure political correctness.”
And since Trump was already planning to be in town for the private birthday party, a campaign representative said the president decided to add a campaign rally to directly communicate with his followers without the filter of the media.
Tennessee is a deep-red state, and Trump received 61 percent of votes in the general election. But Nashville, located in Davidson County, voted overwhelmingly for Trump's Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, and has become known as “the blue dot” in the vastly red state. Since the election, the city has become a gathering place for those who are alarmed by the president's proposals, and a large protest is scheduled outside Trump's Wednesday evening rally.
Unlike several other states with Republican governors, Tennessee did not expand Medicaid — and the state has become one of the GOP's go-to examples of why the Affordable Care Act is not working. Premiums for plans offered to state residents through an exchange dramatically increased last year, and competition has fallen, with residents of most counties only having access to one insurance company through the exchange.
Still, health-care advocates in the state warn that costs will only increase for working- and middle-class people under the proposed reform and that deep cuts to Medicaid will hurt older residents and the disabled. Ahead of the president's visit to Nashville, the group “Save My Care” is airing a commercial featuring Dennis Wallace of Chattanooga, a Republican cancer survivor who voted for Trump and is now urging Congress to keep the Affordable Care Act, which he credits with saving his life.