With the US Presidential election just over a year away, many devoted members of one major political party are besotted by an unorthodox candidate who loudly opposed the Iraq War, supports a Canadian - style single-payer health care system for the United States, and blames the Republican Party for the 2008 financial crisis.
And I'm not talking about Bernie Sanders.
It seems hard to believe, but it's true: as illustrated by Judd Legum of Think Progress, Donald Trump has gone on the record with some policy positions that put him on the otherwise nonexistent far-left of the GOP, and might even be more "progressive" then even most Democrats would be comfortable with:
Trump has strongly criticized the rest of the Republican field for advocating deep cuts to programs relied upon by the elderly, the disabled, and the poor. In April at the New Hampshire Republican Leadership Summit Trump said that he was “disappointed with a lot of the Republican politicians.”
“Every Republican wants to do a big number on Social Security, they want to do it on Medicare, they want to do it on Medicaid. And we can’t do that. And it’s not fair to the people that have been paying in for years and now all of the sudden they want to be cut,” Trump said.
Trump would not be leading the Republican field if he didn’t support the repeal of Obamacare. But he has also talked for years about the need for universal health care.
Confronted last week about his position by conservative radio host John Fredericks, Trump stuck to his guns. “We have to help them out. And I would make deals with hospitals, and I’d make deals with people where they can get some care, John. I mean, you can’t have a guy that has no money, that’s sick, and he can’t go see a doctor, he can’t go see a hospital. You know, I just don’t think you can have that,” Trump said.
Trump told the host he didn’t care if his position cost him votes in the Republican primary, saying “you have to take care of poor people.”
Trump was an early and vocal opponent of the Iraq war.
“Look, the war is a disaster. The war should not have been entered into,” he told the Dallas Morning News in a July 2003 interview. “To lose all of those thousands and thousands of people, on our side and their side. I mean, you have Iraqi kids, not only our soldiers, walking around with no legs, no arms, no faces. All for no reason. It is a disgrace.”
Politico has even more: over the years, Trump has switched from Republican to Independent to Democrat like Lady Gaga changes stage outfits:
Trump once endorsed a massive surtax on the rich. But he now wants the top income tax rate cut in half.
He opposed the war in Iraq, but says he now has a “foolproof” plan to defeat ISIL.
He’s praised single-payer health care, yet loathes Obamacare. But a decade ago he proposed “health marts” that sound suspiciously like today’s Obamacare exchanges.
Over the past two decades he was a Republican, then an independent, then a Democrat, then a Republican. Now, registered as an independent, he leads the Republican 2016 presidential field.
In 1999, Trump quit the Republican Party, saying “I just believe the Republicans are just too crazy right.” Trump was then conferring with political consultant Roger Stone about a possible presidential run as a candidate of the Reform Party, the political organization founded by his fellow billionaire Ross Perot.
In 2001, Trump quit the Reform Party to register as a Democrat. “It just seems that the economy does better under Democrats,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in 2004. The Clintons attended Trump’s Palm Beach wedding to former model Melania Knaus in 2005. The following year Trump gave $26,000 to the House and Senate campaign committees.
So what's going on here? It's certainly possible that Trump has gotten the GOP religion once and for all - as an immigration hardliner, at least - and is serious about running as a hardcore conservative. Or maybe, as some have suggested, he's trying to discredit the Republican field altogether to make way for his old friend Hillary.
But I can't help wondering if there's an only-Nixon-can-go-to-China method to his madness. Maybe Trump hasn't changed some of these surprisingly progressive positions, but thinks that only someone whose conservative credentials are otherwise impeccable could put them into action.
Barack Obama, whose lefty reputation preceded him, had a hard enough time trying to pass a health care reform similar to that proposed by the "Contract With America"-era Republicans. Can you imagine if he had tried to completely overhaul the system to make it more like Canada's? His Presidency probably wouldn't have survived.
Imagine, however, if you had a Republican President taking tough action on the hottest of all hot-button conservative issues: illegal immigration. The political capital this would give him among GOP activists would be enormous, and would probably give him the cover he needs to pass more progressive policies without getting impeached.
It's kind of a brilliant strategy when you think about it. Is it possible that Donald Trump, of all people, is actually a master strategist?
Okay, maybe I'm overthinking this a bit.
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