Opinion writer


President Trump announced this morning that he will be banning transgender troops from serving in the military, and all indications are that this may also end up kicking out thousands of them who are already serving. The Post reports:

President Trump said he will ban transgender people from serving in the military in any capacity, a reversal of the Obama administration decision that would have allowed transgender recruits to serve, he announced on social media on Wednesday.

Citing the need to focus on victory, Trump said that the military cannot accept the burden of higher medical costs and “disruption” that transgender troops would require.

“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

According to a recent RAND Corp. study, around 4,000 transgender people currently serve in the U.S. military. They would presumably be expelled. Gay rights advocates are already threatening legal action against the move. As The Post notes, a bipartisan majority in the House (24 Republicans and 190 Democrats) recently rejected a measure that would have “blocked the Pentagon from offering gender transition therapies to active duty service members,” but this has remained a “pet cause” for conservatives.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was supposed to be examining whether to continue former president Barack Obama’s policy of allowing transgender service, and Mattis’s review was due in December. It’s unclear whether Trump simply steamrolled this process to rush forth his ban.

There will be plenty of time to debate the legal and substantive merits of the policy. But for now, I wanted to focus on the politics of it. Here is how one administration official justified the move in a quote given to Axios’s Jonathan Swan:

This forces Democrats in Rust Belt states like Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin to take complete ownership of this issue. How will blue collar voters in these states respond when senators up for reelection in 2018 like Debbie Stabenow are forced to make their opposition to this a key plank of their campaigns?

In emails to me this morning, top Democrats flatly rejected the notion that they need to fear the politics of this debate. Guy Cecil, the head of Priorities USA, the Super PAC that is staking out a central role in opposing Trump for Democrats, told me:

The comments only serve to reveal how morally repugnant this administration really is by playing politics with our country’s defenses and attacking fellow Americans who honorably serve to protect our freedom. It also reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of how Senate campaigns work. If this is their approach, than 2018 will definitely be a banner year for Democrats.

Meredith Kelly, a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, emailed me:

President Trump’s attack on Americans who want to step up and make incredible sacrifice to serve our country is disgusting, and it’s made worse by the political calculation behind it. Every Republican should speak out against it. President Trump is a draft dodger and if he wants to talk about 2018, we’ve got dozens of veteran candidates who have already shown what it looks like to step up and serve our country to keep us safe, and are ready to do it again in Congress.

Swan, the reporter who floated that administration official’s quote, subsequently tweeted that it did not represent the full range of views in the White House. If so, that’s good to hear, and let’s hope that administration officials clarify this. But in a certain sense, the quote does neatly capture a larger, important truth about how Trump and his administration have sought to appeal to his voters: There is much more of a culture-war dimension to their communications and political strategy than is commonly acknowledged.

The culture war is back

It is often claimed that Trump won his voters — particularly in the Rust Belt — with a “populist economic nationalism” that appealed to their economic anxieties and their dissatisfaction with elites who have shafted them on issues such as trade and immigration. But on multiple issues — from health care to taxes — Trump has governed like much more of an orthodox, plutocrat-friendly Republican — a Paul Ryanesque limited-government conservative — than he signaled he would, supporting fiscal policies that would dramatically roll back the safety net and Wall Street regulations while massively cutting taxes for the rich and corporations. Pretty much all that remains of Trump’s populist economic nationalism is the mass deportations, the travel ban, and the vow to defend coal and manufacturing jobs from pointy-headed elitist regulators both domestic and international.

Trump has promised to renegotiate our trade deals, but there’s no telling whether he will do so in a way that benefits workers. Meanwhile, another key element of his populist nationalism — the vow of massive infrastructure spending — is stalled, and may end up amounting to nothing. In a sense, the infrastructure issue also confirms the point: Recall that when top Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon vowed huge infrastructure spending, he promised to get “shipyards” and “ironworks” all “jacked up.” As Jonathan Chait put it, there was no economic rationale for this; it reflected little more than “nostalgia for the manly work of an older generation.” The same goes for Trump’s vow to restore the glory of an old economic order based on coal and manufacturing, which is also suffused with far more cultural nostalgia than policy reality.

And now we’re told that Trump’s latest move on transgender troops is all about a culture-war-laden appeal to Rust Belt voters in advance of 2018.

* NINE REPUBLICANS DEAL A SETBACK TO HEALTH-CARE BILL: Late last night, the Senate voted down a procedural motion that would have advanced the most recent version of the Senate bill (after a motion to proceed to debate passed). Here are the nine GOP senators who voted against it: Susan Collins; Bob Corker; Tom Cotton; Lindsey Graham; Dean Heller; Mike Lee; Jerry Moran; Lisa Murkowski, and Rand Paul.

Note that five of the ones who had concerns about the massive rollback of coverage — Collins, Corker, Heller, Moran and Murkowski — voted No. The question is whether that holds after GOP leaders throw a bit more chump change at the bill.

* REPUBLICANS WOULD ACT IF TRUMP FIRED SESSIONS … MAYBE: The Washington Examiner talks to congressional Republicans about how they’d react if Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions:

Trump firing the attorney general could cause a breakdown in relations that area already rocky and highly transactional, Republican senators and congressional aides across Capitol Hill told the Washington Examiner in private conversations.

But most said this only privately. And as noted yesterday, it would be great if Republicans sent a strong signal that Trump’s efforts to undermine the rule of law will meet a forceful response.

* ANTI-MUELLER CHATTER BUILDS: On ABC’s “Good Morning America,” prominent Trump supporter Cory Lewandowski had this to say about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III:

“If the president wants to fire Robert Mueller, by all accounts, he has the legal authority to do so. He could have done that on Day One. He could have done it today. He could do it any time he wants.”

Meanwhile, far too few Republicans in Congress are sending a strong signal that a genuine effort to remove Mueller would be met with a forceful response.

* FRANKEN WARNS OF ‘CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS’: Late last night, Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota offered this warning on MSNBC about a possible nightmare scenario involving Sessions:

“This idea, of the president firing him so he can appoint, through a recess appointment, an attorney general who can then fire Mueller, that would create a constitutional crisis.”

Surely the White House will swiftly shoot down such speculation.

* STUDY: NO, OBAMACARE ISN’T A ‘JOB KILLER’: Republicans spent years claiming the Affordable Care Act would destroy the economy (and the Congressional Budget Office found it might cost some jobs), but the Wall Street Journal reports that a new study from Stanford University researchers shows it hasn’t had any impact on jobs:

The Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare, has had no net impact on the number of working adults, according to the paper … While the paper noted a “substantial” increase in those who gained health insurance, “our findings indicate that the average labor supply effects of the [Affordable Care Act] were close to zero.”

One of the study’s authors notes that this “weakens one of the arguments against the ACA,” which might be true if the law’s opponents cared in the least about whether their arguments have any truth to them.

* TRUMP LIES … AND LIES … AND LIES … AND LIES: Post Fact Checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee offer a swift debunking of all of Trump’s most recent falsehoods and distortions. The grand total is 29 false and misleading statements in the past 26 hours.

On topics ranging from Obamacare, to the “Fake News” media, to (of course) Hillary Clinton, Trump told more than one lie or distortion per hour.

* AND REPUBLICANS SAY TRUMP WON POPULAR VOTE: A new Morning Consult poll finds that 47 percent of Republicans say Trump won the popular vote in 2016, versus 42 percent who say he didn’t. Only 28 percent overall say he won it. As one expert notes:

“Trump voters have been told since the day of the election that Trump won the popular vote, by the campaign, the surrogates, and Trump himself … Because Trump has made consistent allegations of voter fraud, his claims about winning the popular vote continue to get covered.”

In other words, Trump’s lie that millions voted illegally is successfully keeping his supporters in a state of delusion. (In fairness, it’s possible many respondents said this to register general support.)