The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump will likely sell out his working-class white base. Here’s how.

(Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse)
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For many months on the campaign trail, Donald Trump sent a clear message about his fellow Republicans: Ideologically, I’m not one of them. This wasn’t just true on trade, but also on safety-net programs that protect, among others, low-income whites. President Trump, he said, won’t let people die in the streets and will protect Medicare and Social Security from those heartless Paul Ryan types who are forever salivating at the chance to slash them to ribbons.

But now the New York Times reports that congressional Republicans believe they will be able to get around this niggling problem. Republicans have seen Trump appoint people who want to downsize the safety net — like Tom Price to oversee health care and Mick Mulvaney to shepherd the budget — and they think Trump can be persuaded to forget about all that inconvenient campaign talk:

On Capitol Hill, some Republicans are hoping Mr. Mulvaney and others will change the president’s mind on far bigger targets and convince him that structural changes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — the biggest drivers of deficits that are projected to rise over the next decade — are needed to control the national debt and to preserve the programs without substantial tax increases….
House Republican allies see no real contradiction in Mr. Trump’s campaign promises and what they say he must now do….Republicans have assured retirees and those nearing retirement that any changes or cuts to entitlement programs for older adults would not affect them.
Now, Republicans are retroactively applying those caveats to Mr. Trump’s promises, saying the president understands that programs like Social Security and Medicare must be maintained for Americans who are currently receiving benefits but must be changed for younger Americans who may have to work longer before retiring and getting benefits.

It’s true that Republicans have long sold their reforms to such programs by vowing to protect those at or near retirement age. But as this video compilation of Trump promising to protect entitlements shows, Trump told audiences of all ages he would not cut their Medicare and suggested an intention to leave Medicare in its current form. (The reforms championed by Ryan and Price would result in cuts over time and would transform the program’s core mission.) Trump went to great lengths to cast himself as ideologically different from his fellow Republicans on these matters.

President Trump promised over and over to 'save' Medicare and Social Security. Will he? (Video: Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

Of course, as the Times reports, congressional Republicans believe Trump will have little trouble adopting their rhetorical approach, which combines protecting current beneficiaries (older Americans make up the GOP base) with pieties about the need to “strengthen” the programs over time. And indeed, it’s not hard to imagine Trump getting easily rolled by Republicans in this regard — or easily persuaded, because he might shrug at the details.

How long before the white working class realizes Trump was just scamming them?

This dynamic will also be at play in the debates over Obamacare and other government programs that help lower-income Americans. Trump strongly signaled to working-class white voters that, while he’d repeal the Affordable Care Act, he isn’t like those other mean old Republicans when it comes to government’s role in expanding health care to the poor and sick. He and his advisers recently insisted that under the GOP replacement, no one will lose coverage. But they’ve already backed off that promise, instead signaling that they may embrace the block-granting of Medicaid, which would probably lead to cuts over time. The bottom line: The Trump/GOP replacement is likely to end Obamacare’s effort to create a universal coverage guarantee.

What’s more, when it comes to the future of government programs for lower-income people, note that the Trump/GOP tax plan will likely feature huge tax cuts for the rich. That may lead to cuts to safety-net programs (or an explosion of the deficit, or perhaps even both). But a recent study by the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that safety-net programs — the kind often targeted for big cuts by Ryanesque Republicans — lift large numbers of non-college whites out of poverty.

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Here a major caveat is in order: Trump promised lower-income whites safety-net help, yes, but ultimately, his biggest economic promise to them was to deliver  jobs. Trump’s narrative was built around the seductive vow to ensure that blue-collar jobs — the manufacturing and coal jobs of the Rust Belt and Appalachia — will come roaring back and restore an old economic order in which such jobs are Great Again, or at least good enough to form the basis for a prosperous future.

Trump has vowed to renegotiate our trade deals, but the mere act of making that promise doesn’t guarantee that he will do so in the interests of workers — you’ll be shocked to hear this, but the opposite might happen. Trump has promised an infrastructure plan, but we have no idea what that will look like. Major cuts to energy regulations are in the works, but the idea that those will restore the coal industry to its former glory — never mind the setbacks they’ll deliver on climate change and the environment — is a cruel hoax. What happens if Trump’s promised jobs fail to materialize, and he goes along with congressional GOP cuts to the safety-net programs that are designed to help all those who have been — and will be — economically stranded?

Mexico may strike back. Here’s how.


* TRUMP’S APPROVAL RATING IS IN THE TOILET: A new CBS News poll finds that 39 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s performance, vs. 51 percent who disapprove. And:

Six in ten Americans think that illegal immigrants currently living in the U.S. should be allowed to stay and apply for citizenship. Another 13 percent think they should be permitted to stay but not apply for citizenship, and 23 percent would require them to leave the U.S….Just one in five think that illegal immigrants are more likely than American citizens to commit crimes…58 percent of Americans oppose building a wall, while 39 percent favor that.

But Steve Bannon keeps telling us that a huge silent majority rooted for Trumpism and that opposition is confined to an elite bubble.

* REPEAL RUNS INTO TROUBLE IN THE HOUSE: The Times reports that House Republicans are divided between conservatives who want repeal immediately and more vulnerable Republicans who don’t want repeal without a replacement:

Among the increasingly concerned Republicans are those who represent the 24 congressional districts that Hillary Clinton won in the presidential election…and another dozen in districts that President Barack Obama took in 2012 but President Trump won in November. If 25 conservative hard-liners oppose any robust replacement plan, and 30 swing-district House members demand a more generous plan, passage of a compromise bill will be in jeopardy.

It still seems likely that large chunks of the law will be repealed, but the point is, passing a repeal bill is suddenly no longer a foregone conclusion now that it can actually happen.

* GOP SENATOR BALKS AT REPEAL: The Alaska press is reporting that Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told state lawmakers that she won’t vote to repeal the Medicaid expansion if they want to keep it. It’s hard to say how much this will mean in practice.

But the broader point is that senators from states that have expanded Medicaid are having a tough time embracing repeal. The GOP replacement would probably block-grant Medicaid, which would mean cuts to the money the states get over time.

* EUROPE CONFUSED BY WHITE HOUSE’S MIXED MESSAGES: CNN reports that Stephen Bannon attacked the European Union in a private conversation with Germany’s U.S. envoy, even as Vice President Pence reaffirmed our ties to it:

The sources said Bannon spelled out a nationalist world view and cited a wave of anti-EU populism as evidence of the bloc’s flaws, a similar refrain to the one he had previously articulated as the chief of the right-wing website Breitbart News. But days later Pence stressed America’s ties to the EU.

If you are a European official, who do you conclude is the one who really speaks for Trump’s views, such as they are — Pence or Bannon?

* HOUSE GOP BUILDS PROTECTIVE WALL AROUND TRUMP: Politico reports that House Republicans are preventing a full floor-vote on a Democratic measure that is designed to force disclosure of Trump’s conflicts of interest. They are referring the measure to the Judiciary Committee for burial, to avoid the full House voting on it, which would be embarrassing.

As always, Trump’s undermining of our democracy is being enabled by congressional Republicans on multiple fronts. After all, they think he will sign their bills cutting taxes for the rich and shredding regulations and the safety yet.

* NEXT DNC CHAIR FACES BIG CHALLENGE: E.J. Dionne Jr. has a nice column laying out the fundamental challenge for the next Democratic Party chair, which turns on how to channel the outpouring of opposition to Trump:

A political party should not get in the way of a spontaneous and principled uprising rooted in so many movements across civil society. But…power in a democratic nation comes from winning elections…Whoever wins the DNC job will have to do far more than national leaders have done in the past to nurture this energy in the precincts and neighborhoods, and to build party structures in places where they don’t even exist.

As Dionne notes, the debate over whether to minister to the Obama coalition or to blue-collar whites is a false choice. Party-building designed to harness anti-Trump energy is the ballgame.

* WOMAN WITH ILL HUSBAND CONFRONTS TOM COTTON: At an Arkansas town hall meeting last night, a woman confronted Sen. Cotton about her ill husband:

“And you want to stand there with him at home, expect us to be calm, cool, and collected? Well what kind of insurance do you have?” she said, as the crowd erupted. The woman told Cotton that they currently pay only $29 a month for her husband’s insurance and $39 a month for hers. They can’t afford higher premiums, she said. “If you can get us better coverage than this, go for it,” she said. “Can you beat that? Can you?”

And this is all coming before Republicans have rolled out their actual concrete plans for the health-care system.