Nearly eight years ago, Donald Trump launched his first Republican presidential campaign with a highly provocative speech in which he suggested many Mexican immigrants are “rapists.” But that’s not all the future president said.
On his first day, Trump actually broke with Republican orthodoxy and promised to champion the social insurance programs: He’d make no cuts to Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security. In the months that followed, Trump repeated the vow over and over and over again, using the point to separate himself from other GOP candidates.
As regular readers may recall, this became a staple of his entire national candidacy: Americans could count on him to leave programs alone. Cuts to so-called “entitlement” programs, as far as he was concerned, were off the table.
“I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid,” Trump declared in 2015. “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.”
This morning, as Politico reported, the Republican once again positioned himself as a proud supporter of these popular programs.
Former President Donald Trump issued a warning to Republican lawmakers on Friday: Don’t lay a finger on entitlement programs as part of the debt ceiling showdown with the White House. “Under no circumstances should Republicans vote to cut a single penny from Medicare or Social Security,” Trump said in a video message.
“Cut waste, fraud and abuse everywhere that we can find it, and there’s plenty of it,” the former president added in the new two-minute video. “But do not cut the benefits our seniors worked for and paid for their entire lives.”
To be sure, the rhetoric rings hollow. Trump was president for four years, and not only did he fail to score dramatic victories over “waste, fraud and abuse,” he also endorsed cuts to the same programs he vowed not to cut.
But there’s an even more important context to today’s clip. As Politico’s report added, “Republicans have vowed not to raise the federal government’s borrowing capacity unless Biden makes steep cuts to federal spending, potentially impacting social insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare. Trump’s video is a warning to his fellow party members not to go there.”
That’s exactly what makes today’s comments important: The former president just cut off House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and many of his members at the knees.
As we discussed ahead of Election Day 2022, Republican leaders freely admitted that they would launch a debt ceiling crisis, threatening a deliberate economic catastrophe unless their demands were met. They didn’t say exactly what would appear on their ransom note, but according to some GOP officials, cuts to Social Security and Medicare would be part of the plan.
After Election Day, the problem intensified. Senate Minority Whip John Thune, for example, told Bloomberg in late November that his party was looking for Social Security cuts and saw a hostage crisis as a way to pursue the goal.
Democrats have been steadfast in their opposition — and now Trump is siding with their position.
To be sure, the former president’s message to his own party isn’t altogether coherent. He wants Republicans to create a debt ceiling crisis, and he wants GOP officials to seek deep spending cuts. But Trump also wants his party to leave Social Security, Medicare and the military alone — overlooking the inconvenient fact that Social Security, Medicare and the military represent a dramatic chunk of all federal spending.
Nevertheless, this is likely to offer Democrats a new rhetorical advantage in the coming weeks and months: As Republicans push the nation toward a possible default, the moment they recommend cuts to so-called entitlement programs, Democrats will say, “Even Donald Trump thinks the GOP is going too far in an extreme direction.”