I know this may shock you, but politicians of both parties sometimes … well, let’s say they exaggerate. They make unrealistic campaign promises, promises that they suspect or even know that they won’t be able to keep. The more cynical of the breed have no intention of even trying to honor those promises.
But never in the course of American history have we seen something on this scale.
Donald Trump ran on a promise to protect the forgotten against the elites, to instill a sense of economic justice into a system that no longer seemed fair to many. He promised to protect people, to give them a sense of value and stability against the chaos that threatened them. He railed against “a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.” He promised “a new government controlled by you, the American people.”
“I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid,” he tweeted in the campaign. He promised an ObamaCare replacement that would cover all Americans, lower costs and improve care. “I am going to take care of everybody,” he said. “I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”
I’m not exactly shocked that Trump has failed to keep those promises, because they were never realistic in the first place. But what makes Trump different, what has astonished even the most strident Trump critic, is how shamelessly he has done the exact opposite of what he promised, in the process betraying the very people who had embraced him most wholeheartedly.
He has handed control of economic policy to the very Wall Street elites he has attacked. He bragged that he would take on the pharmaceutical companies that were overcharging for drugs, and would use Medicare to negotiate lower costs; after a secret meeting with Big Pharma executives, he attacked Medicare for trying to lower drugs costs. He pledged repeatedly that he would replace ObamaCare with a plan that covered everyone, that lowered rates. Then he celebrated when the House passed a plan that would push 23 million Americans out of the insurance pool while giving millionaires a huge tax cut.
According to the new Congressional Budget Office report, that plan would hit hardest at older, more rural Americans who most strongly supported Trump. A 64-year-old making $26,500 a year would today pay $1,700 for health insurance. Under the House GOP plan embraced by Trump, he would have to pay $16,100.
The new budget proposal released this week compounds that betrayal, slashing Medicaid by another $1 trillion and giving additional trillions in tax cuts to the wealthy. And again, the people who would be hit hardest by such steps would be the very people who had adored him, who lavished him with so much praise and faith that cult leaders looked on in envy.
As Trump himself once bragged, he could shoot somebody dead in the middle of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and his supporters would still back him. White male voters without a college degree have been particularly fervent in their support, backing him last fall by a margin of 71 percent to 23 percent for Hillary Clinton.
Of course, racial and ethnic resentments were also part of Trump’s appeal, and but it turns out that you can’t eat resentment. Resentment doesn’t help your son battling an opiate addiction. It doesn’t keep your rural hospital open, and it doesn’t help your elderly mother who relies on Medicaid for nursing home care. And people are paying attention.
For example, look at Trump’s approval rating among the strongest part of his base, as reported by Fox News:
In the last four months, Trump’s overall job approval numbers have dropped by eight percentage points in the Fox poll. But among white voters with no college degree, the decline has been far more rapid, dropping by 14 points. Those in that demographic who strongly approve of Trump — the people who in the past have attended his rallies and proudly donned MAGA hats — has dropped by 12 points.
I doubt that rapid decline can be attributed to the Russia scandal or the Comey firing. Instead, these voters are beginning to understand just how completely they’ve been scammed by a con artist who promised them one thing and is delivering the exact opposite.