Trump: The Worst of Both Worlds

One of the things we heard about Trump’s candidacy during the course of the election was that, while he inflamed white nationalist sentiments that had long been dog whistled by Republicans, he had a populist flair that departed from standard GOP policies and made him attractive to working class Americans. On the latter, it was noted that Trump hated trade deals, promised to protect entitlement programs and would invest in job growth via infrastructure spending.

I remember thinking that red flags should have gone up about that latter part when, in one of the debates with Clinton, Trump railed about how poorly trade deals had been negotiated. He specifically said that his alternative would be to bring in corporate leaders to do the negotiating. Where was the populism in that?

Now…with the Trump transition team’s announcement about some of their Cabinet nominations, what we’re witnessing is the possibility that a Trump administration will highlight the worst of both words: white nationalism combined with big money politics.

On the white nationalism front, we saw the early picks of Steve Bannon as chief strategist and Sen. Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. We’ve noted that the plan is to nominate billionairess and Republican mega donor Betsy DeVoss for Education Secretary – someone who has no training or experience in education, but has specialized in donating to causes that undermine unions as well as public education. There is also billionaire investor Wilbur Ross (often called “the king of bankruptcy”) who has been nominated to be Secretary of Commerce.

A specialist in corporate turnarounds, Ross buys distressed or bankrupt companies at steep discounts, then seeks to shave costs and generate profits. Some of those cost reductions have come from altering pay and benefits for workers. Since 2000, his firm has invested in more than 178 companies…

In early 2006, the Sago coal mine owned by Ross exploded, triggering a collapse that killed a dozen miners. Federal safety inspectors in 2005 had cited the West Virginia mine with 208 violations.

Now we learn that Trump will nominate Rep. Tom Price to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Steve Benen has a great rundown on just how extremist Price has been while serving in the House. But by choosing him, Trump signals where he actually stands on entitlements.

One of the 18 members of the House GOP Doctors Caucus, Price supports major changes to Medicaid and Medicare, health insurance pillars of the Great Society programs of the 1960s. Under his vision, both programs would cease to be entitlements that require them to provide coverage to every person who qualifies. Instead, like many House Republicans, he wants to convert Medicaid into block grants to states…

For Medicare, Price favors another idea long pushed by conservatives, switching it from a “defined benefit” to a “defined contribution.” With that, the government would give older or disabled Americans financial help for them to buy private insurance policies.

Here is what Price said about Social Security in January 2015:

So all the kinds of things you know about – whether it’s means testing, whether it’s increasing the age of eligibility. The kind of choices — whether it’s providing much greater choices for individuals to voluntarily select the kind of manner in which they believe they ought to be able to invest their working dollars as they go through their lifetime. All those things ought to be on the table and discussed.

Of course Price has been a leader in the fight to repeal Obamacare – going so far as to suggest that the provision requiring insurers to cover those with pre-existing conditions is “a terrible idea.”

When it comes to infrastructure spending, we learned today that Trump will nominate Elaine Chao as Transportation Secretary. She is the former Bush administration’s Secretary of Labor and wife of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. That’s not exactly the kind of thing people expected from his promise to “drain the swamp.” Beyond that, we’ve already seen that Trump’s infrastructure plan is more focused on tax breaks for the construction industry than it is on creating jobs.

Combine all that with Trump’s promise to reduce taxes on the wealthy, get rid of regulations, repeal Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms and you get the worst of a traditional Republican agenda…on steroids. The plan is to pay homage to the oligarchs, stomp on the poor/middle class, and blame everything on those “other people.” Throw in a little military adventurism and you get a trifecta of what President Obama spent eight years trying to undo.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .