Oh, that Donald Trump; what a comedian! After spending a year on the campaign trail scoffing at the upbeat jobs numbers put out by the Obama administration, he is now boasting about the latest jobs numbers coming from the same sources.
When asked about this convenient contradiction during a press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Mr. Trump had told him to offer this explanation: "They may have been phony in the past, but it's very real now." That got a good laugh from the reporters in the room. Even Mr. Spicer grinned.
Now, in an even more hilarious turnabout, Mr. Trump is discounting the Congressional Budget Office analysis that has determined the House Republican health care plan will, over time, reduce the total of insured Americans by 24 million. Mr. Trump rejects the CBO's analysis because he has embraced the GOP health care bill as his own. That is very different from the way he, as a candidate, cited CBO numbers as if they were gospel when they made Mr. Obama look bad.
Monday, during the daily White House media scrum, NBC's Peter Alexander got into a testy exchange with Mr. Spicer over the president's very elastic and self-serving use of facts. First, they sparred about Mr. Trump's unsupported allegation that Mr. Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower. Mr. Spicer tried to pretend that Mr. Trump's allegation had not been a very specific and personal attack on the former president. Then they argued about the CBO's health care estimates.
After Mr. Spicer had finished his verbal pretzel making, Mr. Alexander asked, "Can you say affirmatively that whenever the president says something, we can trust it to be real?"
"If he's not joking," Mr. Spicer said.
Well, an agile comedian can always find a gullible chump to be the object of his humor and, in the case of health care, the butt of Mr. Trump's joke is the older, white working-class voter who cheered loudly when candidate Trump guaranteed insurance coverage for every American. "Everybody's going to be taken care of much better than they're taken care of now," Mr. Trump said in the early days of the campaign, a promise he continued to repeat. Under his magical, imaginary scheme, premiums would go down and Medicaid would not be cut.
Now that there is a real plan to be scrutinized, Mr. Trump claims it matches his campaign rhetoric, even in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary. Numbers from the CBO are seldom perfectly accurate, but they are generally a good predictor of the general costs of legislation. And, in the case of the GOP health care legislation -- dare we call it Trumpcare? -- not only will millions of people lose insurance coverage, but premiums will shoot up for older citizens who will lose much of their federal subsidy and Medicarefunds for the working poor will be slashed.
And here's the punchline: Many of those who get slammed by these changes will be people who believed Mr. Trump's promises and gave him their votes, folks of modest means and limited education who are getting up in years and need the help of government to pay their medical bills when they get sick.
They trusted Mr. Trump. It's too bad Sean Spicer was not around to explain Mr. Trump's sense of humor to them back on Election Day. Their future president, he could have said, can be trusted, "if he's not joking."
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to latimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.
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