Tuesday night, President Trump faced off with Joe Biden in the first presidential debate. It was a jaw-dropping train wreck — probably the most nationally-humiliating presidential debate in American history. It was two old men flailing at each other for an hour and a half, but primarily distinguished by Trump constantly trying to talk over his opponent, refusing to denounce his white supremacist paramilitary supporters — indeed instructing them to “stand by” — and baselessly suggesting that millions of mail-in ballots were fraudulent.
However, one could still discern a political strategy in Trump’s incoherent blathering. It’s the same strategy seen across the Republican Party — namely, lying constantly about absolutely everything. From the president on down, the GOP refuses to defend its actually policy program.
First, on health care, Trump asserted that he would protect pre-existing conditions, and that he had a worked-out plan for what would replace ObamaCare. Neither is true. After winning control of the House of Representatives in 2010, the Republican Party voted literally dozens of times to overturn the program. It tried again in 2017 and famously failed by a single vote in the Senate. Today, the whole party is behind a lawsuit — the latest of several attempts — to overturn the Affordable Care Act by judicial fiat.
The legal reasoning of that case is completely preposterous, yet it has reached the Supreme Court, which conveniently will not rule on it until after the election. If Senate Republicans confirm the right-wing extremist Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, it is quite likely that ObamaCare will indeed be killed. As Biden pointed out during the debate, if the law is struck down, protections on pre-existing conditions will be removed, and roughly 25 million people will lose their health insurance. It would be a policy disaster nearly without parallel, and cause tens of thousands of deaths. (Not coincidentally, protecting people with pre-existing conditions polls at 75 percent approval.)
Republicans had nothing in 2017 and have nothing today to actually replace ObamaCare in the sense of achieving the same function. Their “repeal and replace” bill three years ago amounted to telling the poor and the sick to go pound sand, and since then they aren’t even pretending to have so much as a fig leaf. If they get their way, they’ll repeal the whole law, setting off a policy grenade under the health care system, and let the chips fall where they may.
Other Republicans running for re-election this year are telling the same abject lie. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, for instance, is campaigning on maudlin fake promises that he will protect pre-existing conditions despite having voted for the ObamaCare repeal.
Secondly, when Joe Biden correctly pointed out that Trump opposes legal abortion and Barrett’s confirmation would likely lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Trump played dumb. “There’s nothing happening there. You don’t know her view on Roe v. Wade.”
Again, Republican senators have been busily attempting this same charade, as if overturning Roe has not been one of the foremost policy goals of the party for decades, and despite some of their own members giving away the game. They’re doing this because they know it’s an unpopular position to be trumpeting just before an election.
Next, Trump lied about the coronavirus pandemic. It was hard to find a string of coherent thought in his rambling diatribe on the subject, but his main argument was that he saved many people by banning travel from China earlier this year. In fact, his travel ban had many loopholes, and was far too late in any case. The massive outbreaks on the east coast were seeded by travel from Europe, not China. Since then Trump has done virtually nothing except interfere with the response. He has repeatedly undermined basic precautions like mask-wearing, has pushed for states to reopen before they have adequate virus control measures in place, and has continued to hold large rallies that have very likely infected many of his own supporters (and probably killed Herman Cain). His performance on the pandemic has been by far the worst of any leader of a developed nation.
Finally, in response to a question about climate change, Trump asserted that he was in favor of “crystal clean” air and water. Not only does air and water pollution as traditionally understood have nothing to do with climate change, the Trump administration has continually undermined regulations protecting Americans’ air and water. It turns out that keeping heavy metals out of babies’ brains is unprofitable for big corporations, and so those protections are being rolled back. On the actual climate change question, Trump had nothing to say about the wildfires, hurricanes, floods, and other disasters that are striking like clockwork across the country. Again, basically the same spin and deflection is coming from the rest of the party on the climate issue.
The Republican Party is pretty clearly calculating that they have a death grip on the minds of about 40 percent of the country — people who are so brain-poisoned by conservative media that they will believe them no matter what they say. Most of these poor saps will pull the lever for Trump while he does his level best to sell them and their children down the river to Big Mercury. Only time will tell whether it will work.