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An unpersuasive defense of Trump's health care ignorance

Does Donald Trump's illiteracy on health care matter? A Republican senator said it doesn't, but the defense comes up far short.
Senate candidate, Rep. Bill Cassidy, left, talks to the media in Shreveport, La. on Oct. 14, 2014.
Senate candidate, Rep. Bill Cassidy, left, talks to the media in Shreveport, La. on Oct. 14, 2014.

Donald Trump's ignorance about health care is obvious. Just this week, the president, while bragging about his expertise on the subject, made plain that he simply doesn't have any idea what he's talking about.

The question, however, is whether Trump's illiteracy is consequential. MSNBC's Hallie Jackson asked Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) about this yesterday, and the Republican senator did his best to defend his party's president.

"In your conversations with him, do you think the President understands the political, the policy intricacies of this bill?" Jackson asked."I don't think it's important for him to understand the policy intricacies of this bill," Cassidy replied. "What's important for him is to understand the principle -- his principle is that there should be a replace associated with repeal. And during the campaign he consistently said he wanted to continue coverage for those who had, cover preexisting conditions, eliminate mandates and lower premiums, those are very good principles by which to go."

For now, let's put aside the fact that Trump's purported "principles" on health care have been easily discarded, and practically every promise he made to American voters -- including his vow not to cut Medicaid -- has already been broken.

Let's instead focus on Cassidy's broader point: that the president doesn't really have to understand the substantive details. I can appreciate the motivations behind the argument, but it's still unpersuasive.

As the process has unfolded in recent months, Donald Trump hasn't done a single substantive interview on health care. Not one. As his party's plan has become increasingly unpopular, the president has done nothing to defend the proposal, in large part because he doesn't seem to know what the proposal is or what it does.

Trump has held no town-hall meetings. He's hosted no forums. He's played no constructive role in negotiating with lawmakers or persuading industry stakeholders.

The president, in other words, has largely played the role of a hapless bystander, demanding passage of a bill he knows nothing about.

Cassidy's argument is that Trump is focused on big-picture priorities, and I suppose there's some truth to that. But in case anyone hasn't noticed, overhauling the nation's health care system is incredibly difficult, and navigating the choppy political waters requires effective leadership.

Trump hasn't been able to provide that leadership because he hasn't bothered to do his homework. If the Republican gambit falls short, as now appears likely, the president's ignorance will be partly to blame.