Appearing on multiple Sunday shows, Donald Trump demonstrated how maddeningly incoherent and inconsistent he can be. Listening to him over and over again, however, one begins to suspect this is an act to avoid close scrutiny.
When pressed, for example, on whether he wants an individual mandate, a position he took with Anderson Cooper at last week’s town hall, he rambled thusly on “Fox News Sunday”:
WALLACE: Mr. Trump, question: do you support the individual mandate on Obamacare or not?
TRUMP: Right. Let me explain to you. First of all, I don’t want mandates for anything. I want people to get. I don’t want people dying in the streets.
I was actually talking over Anderson Cooper, who I thought it was a great interview and he’s a great interviewer. But I was talking over him. He was talking at the same time. He mentioned the word “mandate,” and I was talking about something else, to be honest with you. It doesn’t matter. It’s not a very complicated —
WALLACE: But, wait, you said “I like the mandate”.
TRUMP: I like — I want people to be covered that cannot afford to be covered that are — I don’t want people dying in the streets. That’s not mandate. That’s me. That’s having a heart.
I don’t want people dying in the streets. I don’t want people to have no health care whatsoever and they’re in the middle of the street dying. And I talk about it all the time.
And you know what? When I give these speeches where I have 10,000 and 15,000 and 20,000 people and I talk as a Republican, as a conservative Republican, and I talk about that and I say, “I don’t want people dying because they have no money,” I get standing ovations.
You know, the Republicans are not bad people. I get standing ovations. So, I think it’s very important. I’m not going to have people dying in the street if I’m president. I can tell you that. You can call it whatever you want.
Huh? But wait. He gave just about the same answer on “Meet the Press”:
DONALD TRUMP: Well, on the mandate, if you look at the mandate, we had a situation where we were, Anderson Cooper, who’s terrific, by the way, and did a terrific job, but we were talking over each other. Look, I want, we’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare. Obamacare is a total and complete disaster. It’s going to be gone. We’re going to come up with a great healthcare plan, whether it’s healthcare savings accounts, we have a lot of different things. We’re going to get rid of the lines between states, we’re going to have great competitive bidding. But I say all the time, you can call it anything you want. People are not going to die in the middle of the street. People are not going to die on the sidewalk if I’m president, okay?
CHUCK TODD: Well, let me get something definitive from you on this.
DONALD TRUMP: But Chuck, I say that, excuse me, I say that to packed houses with thousands and thousands of people, Republicans mostly, and I get standing ovations. I’m not going to let that happen. If I’m president, we’re not going to have people dying on the streets. So you can call it whatever you want. I don’t call it a mandate, I just say it’s common sense.
CHUCK TODD: No, I understand that. Well, let me ask you this. Do you think that it should be a law that anybody who can afford health insurance has to have it?
DONALD TRUMP: I think, no, I think it’s going to be up to them, okay? I want it to be up to them. But I’m really talking about people that can’t afford it. We’re not going to let people die in squalor because we are Republicans, okay? That’s part of the problem with the Republicans, where somehow they got fed into this horrible position. We’re going to take care of people. But no, people don’t have to have it. We’re going to have great plans, they’re going to be a lot less expensive than Obamacare. They’re going to be private. There are going to be lots of different options. We’re going to have a lot of different options. Right now you have no options. You know why? Because the insurance company controlled Obama because they gave him a lot of money. That’s why you have lines around the states. And you can’t get competitive bidding.
Talk about operating by rote. He insists whatever inanity he said earlier was a mistake, denies he took or takes a liberal position and declares there will not be people “dying in the streets.” (Does he understand there is a duty now to treat people, but what we are debating is insurance?) Then he ends with assurances he is loved by crowds. Superlatives by the bushel may be funny, but they also substitute for concrete answers. It may seem like a word salad or stream of consciousness at first glance, but it is a salad he tosses up over and over again, each time avoiding close scrutiny.
On health care and most every issue, he has not bothered to try — or is incapable of — getting up to speed. Instead, he has decided to repeat a couple of canned lines and bluff his way through questions. The same pattern emerges whether it is his claim to have been against the Iraq War or his assertion President George W. Bush knew there were no WMDs in Iraq. When pressed on his comments in 2002 supporting the war, Trump threw this out:
Well, what I mean by that is it almost shouldn’t have been done. And you know, I really don’t even know what I mean, because that was a long time ago, and who knows what was in my head. I think that it wasn’t done correctly. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been done at all. It was sort of, you know, it was just done. It was just, we dropped bombs. Now if you look back, actually, that was probably the correct way of doing it, not going in, and not upsetting, giving them a lesson or not. I mean, I think Senior actually did a pretty good job of what he was doing. He went in, he taught them a lesson. What happened is he was taunted. Because Saddam Hussein was saying, “We drove back the Americans. The ugly Americans were driven back, the power of Iraq, the power.”
Talk about incoherent. Unfortunately, no one will say to his face he is talking nonsense because he has no real answer.
Certainly, there is a hard-core base of non-college-educated, lower-income voters who do not care what he says, do not care about substance and are unbothered by virulent bigotry and misogyny. Nevertheless, it would seem every voter not in that category is ripe for another candidate’s picking. (As we saw in South Carolina, for example, Trump is still getting 25 percent of college graduates.) His complete lack of understanding of issues and a dearth of sane policy solutions should be fodder for other candidates. They can mock him, pull a “Chris Christie” (force to give the same nonanswer over and over again) and use every forum possible to drill down on his ignorance.
Furthermore, Trump still not has revealed his foreign policy team (how many times has he promised?). He now says his tax returns are not coming soon. (Again, how many times did he promise to release those?) Both opponents and media need to hit him hard on hiding basic information from voters and refusing to do what candidates with far fewer resources routinely manage to do (e.g. Bush put out 33 years of returns). There plainly is a reason why we do not know his foreign policy team. Maybe his team is unimpressive or does not exist at all. Likewise, there is a reason he has not put out his taxes. (Does he avoid paying anything? Is he stingy on charity? Does he over- or understate his wealth?)
In short, Trump needs to be held accountable for his babbling on policy and his refusal to release basic information. In the endless stream of words and excuses, he, one suspects, is trying to conceal just how unprepared he is for the presidency and all that it requires.