Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Trump's Big CON: His Peculiar Combination of Malevolence, Overconfidence and Cluelessness

UPDATE:  "If you had hoped that President Trump’s incompetence would save us from his malevolence, here’s some bad news: Trump’s efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act out of pure rage and spite are likely to have a very big impact, harming large numbers of people. . .

And the rot of bad faith and sheer malevolence at the core of Trump’s claim that Obamacare is already 'gone' needs to be fully appreciated. Trump is not only rolling back the last administration’s efforts to reach the uninsured; he is telling America that a government program that is up and running and designed to help people get health coverage they can’t afford no longer exists. This, even as he and Republicans have already confirmed that they are incapable of producing a replacement, despite his promises otherwise.

Trump’s incompetence is a key reason why he and Republicans failed to pass an affirmative plan of their own for the many millions of people currently benefiting from the ACA. But that incompetence isn’t preventing his malevolence from destroying what is already there for them."

Read the Washington Post, Trump’s incompetence will not save us from his malevolence.

"President Trump’s peculiar combination of malevolence, certainty in his own negotiating prowess, and cluelessness about the details of policy sometimes leads him to issue fearsome-sounding threats that are rooted in a baffling misread of the distribution of leverage and incentives underlying the situation at hand.

Case in point: The big news of the morning, which is that Trump will cut off paying the 'cost-sharing reductions' in his latest bid to sabotage the Affordable Care Act. Trump just tweeted that if Democrats don’t like this, they should negotiate with him to fix the law, in keeping with his previous suggestions that if he lets the law fail, they will feel pressure to do this:

Donald J. Trump

The Democrats ObamaCare is imploding. Massive subsidy payments to their pet insurance companies has stopped. Dems should call me to fix!
4:36 AM - Oct 13, 2017

In reality, this move actually puts more pressure on congressional Republicans than on Democrats to agree to such a 'fix.' . .

House Republicans worry they could have a major political problem on their hands if these payments are stopped, because it could harm large numbers of people in their districts. As it is, millions are enrolled in plans with cost-sharing reductions, which pay money to insurers to subsidize out-of-pocket costs, and if they are halted, insurers could exit the markets, further destabilizing them and leaving millions without coverage options. Tellingly, influential House Republicans such as Reps. Tom Cole and Greg Walden have called for Congress to appropriate the payments. . .

By the way, when Trump says Obamacare is 'imploding,' which will allegedly pressure Dems, he’s lying: The exchanges were stabilizing, and many of their travails are largely attributable to his own multiple efforts to sabotage them. The public understands this: Large majorities say Trump and Republicans will own the ACA’s problems going forward and want them to make the law work. . .

In the end Trump and Republicans are the ones likely to feel more pressure to support such a deal, which will put them in the tough spot of choosing between taking the blame for chaos in the individual markets and weathering the rage from the right that accepting a deal will unleash. Even if Trump doesn’t understand this, congressional Republicans surely do."

Read the Washington Post, Trump’s new sabotage of Obamacare actually points a gun at the heads of Republicans.

Trump's Big CON: Trapped by Lies, Iran Nuclear Deal Edition (AKA Trump's Big CON: It's All About the Show, Iran Edition, CONt.)

UPDATE II:  "Should President Trump announce later this week that he will 'decertify' the Iran deal he has derided as a historic 'embarrassment' to the United States, he in effect would be passing along to Congress responsibility for the fate of the international nuclear accord.

In so doing, Trump would be taking a page out of his own playbook: Make a showy declaration of transformational change that excites his political base, which is hungry to disrupt the status quo, even if the substance of the move is incremental or indeterminate.

From the Paris climate accord to the domestic opioid epidemic, from the U.S.-Mexico border wall to various trade agreements, Trump’s actions have not fully lived up to his rhetoric.

The president’s flashy pronouncements have masked the more nuanced reality of governing, as actions can take months or even years to be implemented or still require decisions by other stakeholders, such as Congress.

For Trump, the result is politically advantageous. He gets credit from his base for bold action — Withdraws from the Paris climate accord! Declares opioids a national emergency! — while the policies themselves end up being slow-walked or punted, in part because of complexities in the system, buying the administration time and preserving outs should the president be persuaded to change course.

'This is not a ‘buck stops here’ president,' said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University. 'His language is Trumanesque — unflinching and 'here’s what I’m going to do.' But it’s just rhetoric. Once he tries to implement it as policy, he backs off . . . He goes forward in a bully-boy fashion, but he gets his comeuppance.' . .

Lanhee Chen, a Republican policy expert and fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, said Trump has hit 'a sweet spot' between communicating sweeping changes while actually taking more incremental policy steps that preserve options.

'Most Americans are not particularly interested in the details and care to a certain degree, and Trump is figuring out what that degree is,' Chen said. 'It is a careful triangulation, but it’s one that politically is going to be advantageous for him in the long run'”

Chen pointed to Trump’s handling of the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and its leader Kim Jong Un as another example of the gulf between the president’s language and his administration’s actions.

'Behind the scenes there’s a whole different set of activities going on,' Chen said. 'In public he’s saying don’t talk to ‘Rocket Man,’ that’s crazy. But there clearly is an effort in the administration to open a dialogue.'

The pattern is evident on other issues as well. . .

To Trump’s supporters, Brinkley posited, it may not matter whether Congress reimposes sanctions derailing the Iran deal. The word they will hear the president utter is 'decertify.'

'All his base knows is that he said Obama made the worst deal in history on Iran,' Brinkley said. 'Fewer people follow the minutiae of that deal. So he gets known to be the guy who dislikes Obama’s deal, even though the deal may stick.'

Read the Washington Post, Trump’s bold declarations don’t always lead to the results he promises.

UPDATE:  "Trump has repeatedly criticized the 2015 agreement that limited Tehran’s nuclear activities, once dubbing it 'the worst deal ever.' . .

Trump could have unilaterally killed the deal by refusing to issue the waivers that kept the old sanctions from being imposed. Instead, he punted the decision to Congress. The Post also reports that he may hold off on recommending that sanctions be reinstated. . .

By handing off any real decision to Congress, he can avoid having to make a hard decision himself. And by picking a fight with Corker, he has a scapegoat if his supporters grow frustrated with a lack of action in Congress. It seems plausible that Trump’s allies are simply being prepared for another legislative failure."

Read the Washington Post, Trump’s latest feud is bad news for his Iran plans.

"Various cultures have different phrases for expressing the idea of having it both ways at once. 'To take a swim and not get wet' is an Albanian proverb. Poles talk about 'having the cookie and eating it.' Iranians want 'both God and the sugar dates.'

The Trump administration has been weighing a contemporary geopolitical version of this straddle. Hard-liners have been urging the president to decertify the Iran nuclear agreement but insist that he wants to strengthen the deal, not break it. The idea is enticing politically, certainly, but it has as much chance of working as (forgive me) 'washing your fur but not getting wet,' as a German aphorism puts it.

[NOTE: The Donald likes to say it is the "dumbest", "weakest", "most dangerous" "worst deal ever negotiated".]

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a leading critic of the Iran deal, described this ambiguous diplomatic approach this week at the Council on Foreign Relations. 'I don’t propose leaving the deal yet. I propose taking the steps necessary to obtain leverage to get a better deal.' Cotton wants decertification, but no sanctions, so that the United States can . . . what? Apparently, the idea is that U.S. pressure will convince Iran to make unilateral concessions that it refused during the 13 years the deal was being negotiated.

Magical thinking is always appealing in foreign policy, but it usually produces nothing more than fairy dust. In this case, there is no evidence that putting the agreement in limbo will bring any security benefits for the United States or Israel. It will introduce uncertainty where the United States and its allies should most demand clarity — in insisting on compliance by all sides with an agreement that caps Iran’s centrifuges and stockpiles of enriched material for at least another decade.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, hardly a dove on Iran, bluntly told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the nuclear deal was 'something that the president should consider staying with.' When pressed by Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) on whether he thought the pact was in the United States’ national-security interest, Mattis paused and answered: 'Yes, Senator, I do.'

Officials speak truth to power at their own risk in President Trump’s Washington. So Mattis’s argument for sustaining what the president has called 'one of the dumbest [and] most dangerous' deals was important, though the outcome of the debate still isn’t clear. It’s probably because of Mattis’s military advice, however, that Trump has dropped his campaign talk of simply tearing up the agreement."

Read the Washington Post, The nuclear issue isn’t the real Iranian challenge.

Read also Trump's Big CON: It's All About the Show, Iran Edition.