Most weeks, New York Magazine writer-at-large Frank Rich speaks with contributor Alex Carp about the biggest stories in politics and culture. Today: Trumpcare’s CBO score, Trump’s first foreign trip, and a Trump-induced late-night ratings boon for Stephen Colbert.
The Congressional Budget Office released its long-awaited analysis of the Republican health-care-reform bill yesterday, finding that 14 million people would lose health insurance next year, 23 million would be without their insurance within a decade, and 90 percent of the spending reductions would essentially fund tax cuts. How much should these numbers concern the GOP?
The CBO analysis only confirms what we already knew before Trumpcare passed the House: Its preexisting condition is terminal. The failed GOP effort to “repeal and replace Obamacare” amounts to medical malpractice on an epic scale and will usher in a world of pain for millions of Americans, many of them in Donald Trump’s base. (To take one representative example, 64-year-old Obamacare recipients will see their annual premiums rise from $1,700 to at least $13,600, for less inclusive coverage.)
The political cost for Republicans who support this toxic bill is sinking in fast, as was illustrated most dramatically yesterday evening, just hours after the CBO report was released. It was a completely routine question about the CBO’s Trumpcare findings that prompted the Republican House candidate in today’s special election in Montana to physically assault the mild-mannered Guardian reporter who asked him. (The candidate, Greg Gianforte, a vocal Trump supporter, tried to deny the incident, but the eyewitnesses included a Fox News crew; he has now been charged with a misdemeanor that could bring as much as six months in jail.) Whether Gianforte loses the seat for the GOP or not, the incident will stand as a metaphor for how panicked Republicans are about facing voters about their health-care debacle, whether in special-election campaigns and town hall meetings this year or at the ballot box in 2018.
The Senate is supposedly rewriting the House version of Trumpcare from scratch. Even if that’s true, it doesn’t matter. After the House passed the cruel original version, Trump held a Rose Garden celebration for what he called his “unbelievable victory.” Before a cheering throng of supporters (notoriously almost all men, led by Paul Ryan), he promised that his “great plan” would bring down both premiums and deductibles. Afterward, the South Carolina Republican congressman Mark Sanford, a member of the Freedom Caucus, likened the spectacle to George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” fiasco — and rightly so. From the Rose Garden celebration on, Trump and the Republicans have owned and will own whatever happens to Americans’ health care going forward. Indeed, it’s probably safe to assume that many in the Trump base, the “poorly educated” he reveres, assume that the “great” Trumpcare plan became law that day. That impression will be furthered by an infinity of attack ads making use of Trump’s White House victory celebration much as a previous generation of ads used Bush’s preening on that aircraft carrier. Thanks to the Trump administration’s continuing efforts to undermine Obamacare (and the insurance market in general) — even as Congress fails to replace it with anything — health-care calamities are going to rise to a crescendo throughout 2018. Most voters will hold the GOP responsible for every one of them no matter how desperately Republicans try to shift the blame to Obama.
Donald Trump is in the middle of his first foreign trip since taking office, which he had reportedly dreaded beforehand. Outside of a memorable photo op with Pope Francis, is he meeting expectations?
Thanks for reminding us that Trump is abroad! Last night out of curiosity I tuned in to one of the network evening newscasts (CBS, the best of them) to see how the president’s Grand Tour was playing. Despite his visit to the Vatican — during which the deadpanning Pope, as many noted, seemed to be channeling Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm — Trump’s foreign jaunt didn’t turn up until the final third of the broadcast. It was preceded not only by the latest from Manchester but by the latest round of damaging leaks in Washington. So much for the White House hope that this trip, like Richard Nixon’s to the Middle East at the height of the Watergate scandal, would blot out a president’s domestic woes.
But given how low the expectations were, I guess it could be said Trump exceeded them. The baseline here was Bush 41’s 1992 visit in Japan, where he vomited on the prime minister, Kiichi Miyazawa, during a state dinner. At least as I write this, Trump has so far spared us embarrassment on that scale, though his brief tour of the Holocaust memorial prompted him to write the sort of guest-book inscription (“So amazing and will NEVER FORGET!”) you’d expect to be penned by Alfred E. Neuman. Otherwise the trip has been notable for Trump’s promise of a miraculous Middle East settlement built on nothing beyond his own hot air, and for his pandering to the Saudis. It seems that Trump has now decided that repeatedly saying the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” is not enough to end terrorism — since he dropped it entirely when speaking in the country of origin for 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers. When terrorists struck the Ariana Grande concert soon after he departed Riyadh, he settled instead for calling them “losers” and seemed oblivious to the reality that the Saudi government’s official support of a draconian fundamentalist form of Islam (Wahhabism) has helped fuel the deadly ideology and atrocities of Al Qaeda and ISIS.
In any case, Trump will soon return home and reveal how he feels about the latest nonstop parade of leaks and revelations about his seeming efforts to obstruct justice in the Russian-collusion investigation. Clearly some of the news has already reached him — in absentia, he’s hired a private defense lawyer. That action speaks louder than any 140 characters Trump could come up with on Twitter.
Stephen Colbert, whom you interviewed at the Vulture festival last weekend, is now assured a season-long ratings victory over Jimmy Fallon for the first time. Will the boom for anti-Trump entertainment continue as long as he’s in the White House?
It’s not just a boom for anti-Trump entertainment, but, as we know, for almost all “fake news” media, including the Washington Post, the Times, MSNBC, and CNN — at least as measured by eyeballs, not necessarily advertising revenue. This bonanza could prove a sugar high that starts to evaporate when Trump does, which would be a good thing for the country if not for necessarily late-night comedy and journalism. (There have been a few early small signs of falloff; Politico has reported a modest dip in monthly traffic on its own site as well as at The Hill and the Daily Beast.) Still, my guess is that the size of the audience will not drop significantly before Trump’s exit, whenever it is, because he is nothing if not a drama queen who will stop at little to grab attention even if it requires going down in flames.