At first blush, it seemed almost vaguely encouraging. USA Today published an op-ed today from none other than Donald Trump, who apparently has some concerns with the prospect of a "Medicare for All" system preferred by some Democratic officials and candidates.
This initially struck me as encouraging: some Dems have a policy idea, and the Republican president wrote an op-ed -- or more accurately, someone at the White House put his name on an op-ed -- as part of an effort to engage in a policy debate during an election season. This isn't just evidence of the importance of health care as an issue in the campaign; it's also evidence of the kind of normal political debate that we haven't seen in a while.
Sometimes, however, what seems encouraging in theory is actually quite discouraging in practice. Let's start with the first paragraph of Trump's piece.
Throughout the year, we have seen Democrats across the country uniting around a new legislative proposal that would end Medicare as we know it and take away benefits that seniors have paid for their entire lives.
Nope, he's lying. Zero Democrats have endorsed proposals that would take benefits from seniors. How about the second paragraph?
Dishonestly called "Medicare for All," the Democratic proposal would establish a government-run, single-payer health care system that eliminates all private and employer-based health care plans and would cost an astonishing $32.6 trillion during its first 10 years.
That's misleading. If the United States spent $32.6 trillion on a Medicare-for-All system, it would represent a reduction in overall health care spending as compared to the status quo. Could the third paragraph of Trump's op-ed show an improvement?
As a candidate, I promised that we would protect coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions and create new health care insurance options that would lower premiums. I have kept that promise, and we are now seeing health insurance premiums coming down.
Nope, he's lying again. Trump has endorsed a Republican lawsuit that would end up stripping millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions of their current protections. He's also endorsed GOP legislation that would, at a minimum, curtail the safeguards families now enjoy, while also expanding use of junk plans that don't include coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.
It would be exhausting -- for you and me -- to keep going, claim by claim, paragraph by paragraph, pointing out every presidential error of fact and judgment. The fact remains that Trump's entire argument rests on a foundation of nonsense. Offered an opportunity to engage in a real debate, the White House instead chose deception.
Regrettably, this doesn't come as too big a surprise. After all, Donald Trump is Donald Trump. The fact that the president would lie his way through an op-ed was predictable.
What's less clear is why the newspaper thought it'd be a good idea to present its readers -- four weeks before critically important midterm elections -- with a piece littered with demonstrable lies. As Glenn Kessler, a Washington Post fact-checker, asked, "How can USA Today allow Trump to publish an article with documented falsehoods?"
That need not be a rhetorical question. If other politicians submitted op-eds to USA Today that were filled with obvious fabrications, I suspect the editors would balk. Sure, a written piece from a sitting president is probably going to be treated a little differently, but maybe it should be accompanied by a companion piece alerting readers to the truth?
Update: A fact-check piece this morning found that "almost every sentence" of Trump's op-ed "contained a misleading statement or a falsehood.”