With President Trump at his side, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) speaks during a rally on Oct. 24 in Mosinee, Wis. (Mike Roemer/AP)
Columnist

Republicans have mischaracterized just about every major policy on their agenda. The question is why. If they genuinely believe their policies are correct, why not defend them on the merits?

Consider the GOP tax cuts. Last year, Republicans said their bill would primarily benefit the middle class, pay for itself and raise President Trump’s taxes, among other claims.

Not one of these contentions is remotely true.

A more honest defense — and one occasionally revealed via accidentally-told-the-truth Kinsley gaffes — might have been something like: We want to let rich people keep more of their money, regardless of the cost to Uncle Sam. We want this both because we (unlike most of the public) think that’s fair, and also because our donors are demanding a return on their investment in us. Plus, maybe it’s a good thing to reduce government revenue; that gives us motivation to “starve the beast” and cut the safety net, which we think is a drag on the economy that protects people from the consequences of their poor life choices.

Likewise with family separations, a policy Trump is considering reviving.

In the spring, the administration systematically ripped immigrant children from their mothers’ breasts with no plan for tracking where they ended up or how to reunite these families. The rationale, as gaffingly revealed by White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, was that such cruelty would deter asylum seekers.

But when voters recoiled, the administration explained things differently. Officials alternately lied that the policy was designed to help children, was actually a Democratic policy or didn’t exist at all.

Lately, the biggest GOP lies involve health care — the top midterm issue for voters — and especially how Republicans would treat Americans with costly medical issues.

The public has had ample opportunity to learn where Republicans stand on protections for those with preexisting conditions. The party spent the past eight years, after all, trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, including these particular (very popular) provisions.

And while Republicans failed to repeal Obamacare legislatively, they’ve found other means to undermine its protections.

For instance, the Trump administration has expanded the availability of junk insurance. These cheap plans look like regular insurance but actually cover little to no care, something you would notice only if you read the fine print. Such policies are not required to accept enrollees with preexisting conditions or to pay claims related to preexisting conditions — even if the preexisting illness hadn’t even been diagnosed at the time of enrollment.

These policies threaten coverage another way, too. Because they siphon young, cheap and healthy people off the Obamacare exchanges, they drive up prices on (real) insurance and thereby put coverage further out of reach for people who are sicker and older.

On Monday, the administration issued new regulatory guidance that will effectively allow states to nudge more people into these junk plans. And that’s just one of many measures the administration has taken that will destabilize the individual marketplaces and jack up unsubsidized premiums for people with preexisting conditions.

There’s clearly appetite among state-level Republicans to roll back such protections, too.

In fact, 20 red states have sued the federal government, arguing that Obamacare, including its preexisting-condition protections, is unconstitutional. Administrations are supposed to defend laws passed by Congress, but on these provisions, the Trump administration has refused.

And yet, Trump continues to argue that “Republicans will totally protect people with Pre-Existing Conditions, Democrats will not!”

When Trump made this claim at a rally in Wisconsin, he was echoed by Gov. Scott Walker (R), who urged the crowd: “Don’t believe the lies. We will cover people with preexisting conditions.”

This despite the fact that Walker authorized his own attorney general to join that 20-state lawsuit. But Walker is far from alone. Across the country, Republican politicians shamelessly conceal their track record on this issue.

Once again, rather than misrepresenting their own positions, Republicans could try to defend them on the merits.

For instance, they might argue that in their ideal capitalist society, it’s not government’s job to shield Americans from the financial risks of serious health conditions. Every man (or woman) is an island, responsible for his or her own health care. If expensive illnesses befall some unlucky members of society, and they lacked the foresight or haven’t saved enough to plan for this risk on their own, then too bad. Life ain’t fair.

You might wonder if maybe Republican politicians are mischaracterizing so many of their own positions because they don’t fully understand them. But given that Republican leaders have occasionally blurted out their true motives — on taxes, immigration and, yes, even health care — this explanation seems a little too charitable.

Republican politicians aren’t too dumb to know what their policies do. But clearly they think the rest of us are.