Friday, May 5, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He denied (via a spokesperson) that telling the Prime Minister of Australia "you have better health care than we do" meant that Australia has better health care than we do.

White House deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders insisted that Trump's remarks last night to visiting Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull were not intended as an endorsement of Australia's universal health-care system, but merely as empty flattery. (UPDATE: Trump himself also doubled down with a tweet today, saying that he was not being polite and that he did mean what he said.)

The actual substance of Trump's statement was absolutely true by practically any measure: Americans' health care is more expensive, more inefficient, and more unfairly distributed than every other developed nation, including Australia. The United States is also the only developed nation that does not have universal health care. Intentionally or not, Trump's remarks effectively endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders' "Medicare for all" plan, a fact that was not lost on Sanders himself.

This is not the first time Trump has spoken favorably of universal health care, only to be corrected by a staffer. As recently as the week before his inauguration, Trump was promising "insurance for everybody," and during his first presidential campaign as a Reform Party candidate in 1999, he simply declared, "I believe in universal health care."

So what?

  • It's not a good sign if a president's unguarded, off-the-cuff remarks endorse totally different policies than his actual policies.
  • Presidents who can't get on the same page with their underlings about what their statements mean are at risk of being manipulated by the people speaking for them.