Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the St. Augustine Amphitheater on October 24, 2016 in St. Augustine, Florida.
Mark Wallheiser

On entitlements, Trump arrives at his ‘Read My Lips’ moment

In 1988, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush was seen by some in his party as too moderate, and he sought to assuage those concerns by vowing not to raise taxes. It became a central pillar of Bush’s national campaign: “Read my lips,” he said. “No new taxes.”

It was a promise Bush decided not to keep. The Republican, needing to cut a budget deal with a Democratic Congress, eventually agreed to some tax increases, reluctantly abandoning his pledge because, as Bush saw it, Democratic lawmakers didn’t leave him with much of a choice.

Nearly three decades later, Donald Trump is in the White House, and with the unveiling of his new budget, another Republican president has arrived at a “read-my-lips” moment of his own.

As a candidate, Trump took care to separate himself from the GOP field and his party’s orthodoxy by making a promise other Republicans wouldn’t consider and didn’t believe:
“I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid. Every other Republican’s going to cut, and even if they wouldn’t, they don’t know what to do because they don’t know where the money is. I do. I do.”
In his campaign kick-off speech, Trump said he’d make no cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security. He bragged about the vow via Twitter, over and over and over again.

These promises helped Trump enormously – the social-insurance programs are broadly popular, even among Republican voters – and played a key role in the inexperienced television personality’s bid to win the GOP nomination and ultimately the presidency.

And now Trump is throwing his vow aside, not as part of some tough negotiations with political rivals, but because he feels like it.

To be sure, when reviewing the president’s new budget plan, it’s difficult to know where to start (or stop). It’s needlessly cruel; it relies on ridiculous growth assumptions; it targets America’s most vulnerable; and it relies on a version of arithmetic that doesn’t exist in reality. Adding insult to injury, the list of broken promises included in the White House blueprint isn’t short.

But one of the central pillars of Trump’s success as a candidate was his assurances to the electorate that he wouldn’t cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. Four months after Inauguration Day, the president unveiled a budget that cuts two of the three.

What’s more, these aren’t modest budgetary trims. The Republican White House proposes gutting Medicaid by hundreds of billions of dollars, while cutting Social Security by tens of billions of dollars.

By way of a defense, Trump’s right-wing budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said Trump’s Medicaid promise wasn’t that important, and Trump’s Social Security promise didn’t really count because the vow didn’t apply to benefits for the disabled.

In other words, just four months into his presidency, Trump is discarding one of his most popular promises, and when pressed for an explanation, the White House’s rhetoric is effectively reduced to, “Oh well, whatever, never mind.”

If you’re an American voter who actually expected Trump to follow through on his commitments, I’m afraid I have some bad news for you.

Budget, Donald Trump, Entitlements, Medicaid and Social Security

On entitlements, Trump arrives at his 'Read My Lips' moment