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Republican senators grow weary of Trump's health care illiteracy

Trump's illiteracy on the substance of governing may not be new, but it's starting to matter more.
President Donald Trump pauses before signing an executive order about regulatory reform in the Oval Office of the White House February 24, 2017 in Washington, DC.

After meeting with Donald Trump this week, a Republican senator told the New York Times the president "did not have a grasp of some basic elements" of the GOP's health care plan. This followed a Weekly Standard report, which said "several" Senate Republicans who've spoken to Trump found he had "little apparent understanding of the basic principles of the reforms and virtually no understanding of the details."

The Washington Post reported today that "seasoned senators," after speaking with Trump, "saw a president unable to grasp policy details or the obstacles ahead."

Trump's illiteracy on the substance of governing may not be new, but his ostensible allies appear to be increasingly weary of the amateur president's ignorance -- enough to share concerns with multiple media outlets -- and it's starting to matter more.

Consider this anecdote from a Politico piece published last night.

Rand Paul and Susan Collins are on opposite ends of the Republican Party when it comes to health care, yet somehow the two senators both left this week's Obamacare repeal meetings with President Donald Trump thinking he's on their side.Paul wants to gut as much of Obamacare as possible and recalled after his one-on-one meeting that the president "realizes that moderates have gotten everything so far" on the health care talks. The centrist Collins, on the other hand, left a larger Tuesday gathering with the president sure that he still wants to make the bill's health care offerings more robust, explaining that "he did leave me with that impression."

There's no reason to believe the senators are giving false accounts of their conversations with the president. On the contrary, it's very easy to believe their versions of events.

What's more, Trump probably wasn't misleading them, either, at least not deliberately. He very likely heard them out, and said their position sounded like the sort of thing he could support.

But therein lies the rub: the president has no idea what he's talking about and doesn't want to make an effort to get up to speed.

Trump sincerely agrees with the last person he spoke to, which forms the basis for his opinions, right up until someone new enters the room and says something very different.

Those sympathetic to Trump have traditionally argued that his policy ignorance is less than ideal, but at least he has core principles to help guide him through the process. Except, as the health care debate is helping prove, this defense is wrong, too: his only guiding principle is scoring a political victory.

The president remains wholly indifferent to substance. That's not my observation; it's what lawmakers from his own party have spent the last several days acknowledging.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) appeared on MSNBC yesterday and said, in reference to health care, "This issue is maybe not the president's wheelhouse." That's an exceedingly polite way of saying Trump appears to be clueless.

And as we discussed yesterday, the practical implications of this are real. Republicans are fractured over how best to proceed on overhauling the American health care system, and some presidential leadership might help bridge the gaps.

Trump, however, simply isn't in a position to lead, not for lack of will, but because he simply doesn't have the knowledge necessary to play a constructive role.