The best blog from the best author you've never heard of. Assorted thoughts ranging from comic books to politics. Sometimes I even talk about writing.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Bully in Chief

Donald Trump’s day was going so well.

The bomb-throwing, fire-breathing Republican nominee flew down Mexico way and acted presidential, clearing a bar set so low as to be unremarkable for other presidential candidates. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto offered Trump precisely what he needed: the opportunity to stand side-by-side with a world leader discussing substantive policy. What’s more, Peña Nieto offered no harsh words for Trump—demanded no apologies. The takeaway from their joint press conference was the astonishing suggestion that the two men could work together. Even the assertion made hours later via Twitter by Peña Nieto—after the Mexican press had pilloried their president for looking weak next to Trump—that the Republican candidate lied when he said the men did not discuss paying for the border wall was easily dismissed because the president had elected to stay silent in the joint press conference when Trump made his claim. In an election that’s become a race to the bottom on popularity and fitness for the job, Trump struck a critical blow against Hillary Clinton’s argument that he’s temperamentally unfit for the job.

Hours later Trump stood before a group of ardent supporters, outlying his ten point immigration plan in a speech full of red meat, and compared America to the big bully who keeps getting beat up.

Goodbye goodwill. Trump’s intent with the comment was to describe how undocumented immigrants are taking advantage of and abusing the country by living in America illegally; as Trump tells it the country is weak now but will be strong once he is in charge. Unfortunately Trump picked possibly the worst metaphor possible. Bullies are widely equated with cruelty and weakness—preying on those who can’t defend themselves and withdrawing at the first sign of challenge. How many of the undecided voters that Trump needs were bullied in school? How many have had to listen to stories of being bullied from their children?

Even at their most dire, complaints about America are largely aspirational; people want the country to be better than it is. Most people would agree there is nothing in a bully to aspire to—least of all the tradition of attacking the weak. I suspect most of the undecideds in Trump’s audience will recognize that he thinks otherwise—recognize and disapprove. Compared to everything else Trump has done the statement is rather innocuous, but the honest revelation that he proudly thinks of America—and by extension himself—as a bully will likely cost him all the progress he’d made just eight hours earlier.

Obamacare Becoming Little More than Medicaid Expansion?

Megan McArdle published a great piece, “Modesty Could Have Averted the Anguish of Obamacare,” on Bloomberg yesterday. Parts of it read like a soliloquy over what could have been had the Obama administration pursued incremental changes to the healthcare market rather than sweeping transformation. The ACA has been less of a hot-button issue this election cycle than in the past three, but the ongoing deterioration of the exchanges promises it will visit us in the headlines for a long time to come. The ACA has insured millions of new people—so in that regard it has been successful—but with the mass exodus from employer plans not materializing and the exchanges absorbing a high percentage of previously uninsurable customers it looks to be devolving into little more than a Medicaid expansion that will continue to cost taxpayers thanks to subsidies. President Obama expended an extraordinary amount of political capital passing the law, and one wonders whether that effort—to say nothing of the market disruptions—will have been worth when all is said and done.

Trump's Visit to Prove he is Slightly Less Unfit?

The Donald Trump Show is many things but it’s never dull. As the Republican nominee makes a Mexican detour ahead of a highly anticipated speech meant to expound on and clarify his immigration policy—which may or may not be waffling depending on who one asks—the biggest question on everyone’s mind is: what is he up to?

The Washington Post’s Daniel Drezner puts it bluntly: “Donald Trump is going to Mexico because he is losing.” It’s hard to argue with that assessment. The risk for Trump is huge, and the potential gains are…unclear. In isolation the likeliest best outcome (because there’s no way Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is going to agree to pay for a wall) is that the trip goes off without a hitch and Trump, staying disciplined and on his best behavior, walks away looking vaguely presidential—an image that may run counter to Hillary Clinton’s effort to paint him as temperamentally unfit for the presidency but hardly a compelling argument in and of itself.

This election, though, is unusual not least because of the two candidates involved. As has been repeated since the primary campaigns ended, Trump and Clinton are the two least popular major party nominees in modern history; included in the strategy of both candidates has been the argument that their opponent is unfit for office. In that context a win for Trump is little more than proving he is not as unfit for office as Clinton claims—and perhaps that he is less unfit than she is. It may be the lowest bar ever set in the contest for presidential politics, but with Clinton’s favorables continuing to drop and her recent absence from the campaign trail allowing questions about emails and the Clinton Foundation to grab headlines Trump’s risky Mexican gambit—coming just as the campaign hits its final stretch—could reset the conversation. The question is whether Trump has already wasted too much time flailing for it to matter.