Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump on Monday said that as president he would press for an extensive overhaul of the Department of Veterans Affairs, making it a more privatized system of care and giving veterans a direct line to the White House. During a campaign speech in Virginia Beach, Va., Mr. Trump presented a 10-point plan for the embattled department, calling for greater privatization of veterans' care than presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
In the last presidential election, Mitt Romney briefly flirted with a provocative idea. On Veterans' Day, the 2012 Republican nominee said, "Sometimes you wonder, would there be some way to introduce some private sector competition" into veterans' care?
It didn't take long for a spokesperson for Veterans of Foreign Wars to explain the VFW "doesn't support privatization of veterans' health care," and Romney quickly retreated. The former governor was just kicking around a hypothetical scenario, Romney said at the time, not pitching a policy he'd pursue.
Four years later, Republicans are less concerned about a confrontation with veterans and their advocates. In May, Donald Trump floated the idea of pushing VA health care toward privatization, and as the Wall Street Journal reported, the presumptive 2016 nominee went even further yesterday.
As regular readers may recall, this came up a few times during the GOP presidential primaries, with several Republican presidential contenders including at least partial VA privatization plans in their platforms -- Ben Carson went so far as to say, “We don’t need a Department of Veterans Affairs” -- despite the VA’s record of excellence, and the fact that the VA system as a whole "outperforms the rest of the health care system by just about every metric. Surveys also show that veterans give VA hospitals and clinics a higher customer satisfaction than patients give private-sector hospitals."
But if anyone thought the party's national ticket would move away from the idea as the general election drew closer, think again. The one idea almost universally opposed by veterans' advocates is the one idea Trump is most eager to tout.
And what about the rest of Trump's "10-point plan"? The entire list is online, but it's woefully thin. It's really just a series of shallow slogans that mean very little, including the first point: Trump intends to appoint a VA Secretary "whose sole purpose will be to serve veterans."
What a creative solution. It ranks right up there with the second point: Trump intends to "remove" VA employees who haven't done a good job. He's quite the visionary when it comes to problem-solving, isn't he?
The Washington Post's Dan Drezner, a center-right foreign-policy expert, responded, "I don't know much about veterans affairs, but as an academic I recognize boilerplate BS when I see it."
There's also the broader context to consider: Trump isn't just trying to privatize VA care, he's also mocked POWs and lied about his support for veterans charities. Adding insult to injury, Trump, who avoided military service during the Vietnam war, has claimed more than once that he understands counter-terrorism better than American generals.
When was the last time a GOP presidential nominee was quite this hostile towards those who served in the military?