Donald Trump has never been a big details guy
Posted June 28
There's a fascinating window into how Donald Trump conceives of the presidency in a New York Times piece out this morning that details the meeting to talk health care between the president and Republican senators at the White House on Tuesday.
Here's are the key passages:
"When asked by reporters clustered on the blacktop outside the West Wing if Mr. Trump had command of the details of the negotiations, Mr. McConnell ignored the question and smiled blandly....
...A senator who supports the bill left the meeting at the White House with a sense that the president did not have a grasp of some basic elements of the Senate plan - and seemed especially confused when a moderate Republican complained that opponents of the bill would cast it as a massive tax break for the wealthy, according to an aide who received a detailed readout of the exchange."
Those descriptions clearly rankled the president, who took to Twitter to defend himself.
"The failing @nytimes writes false story after false story about me. They don't even call to verify the facts of a story. A Fake News Joke!," he tweeted. Then, this: "Some of the Fake News Media likes to say that I am not totally engaged in healthcare. Wrong, I know the subject well & want victory for U.S."
The problem for Trump is that there's a lot of history -- past and recent -- to suggest he is not a terribly details-oriented guy, that he basically views himself as a brand ambassador and the face of an operation. Not the nuts and bolts guy.
Start with Trump's comments before the private meeting with Republican senators on Tuesday afternoon. "For the country, we have to have health care and it can't be Obamacare, which is melting down," Trump said. "This will be great if we get it done, and if we don't get it done it is just going to be something we aren't going to like. And that is OK and I understand that very well."
No mention of premiums. Or Medicaid expansion. Or deficit reduction. Or deductibles. Or any sort of policy at all.
Then there is the reporting coming out of CNN regarding Trump's pitch to on-the-fence senators like Utah's Mike Lee. As CNN's MJ Lee reported Tuesday, Trump's argument was largely political -- his voters, Trump's not Lee's, wanted and needed this so the Senate should do it.
This excerpt is particularly illuminating:
"It was also a 'high level' call, with the President not diving into specific policy details. This is similar to when Trump tried to win over House Republicans on their bill earlier this year -- the President did not appear interested in in discussing detailed policy."
"High level." Cough. Ahem.
Go back even further to when Donald Trump was in search of a vice presidential nominee. This passage, from a Robert Draper story in the New York Times magazine, is instructive:
"According to [an Ohio Gov. John] Kasich adviser (who spoke only under the condition that he not be named), Donald Jr. wanted to make him an offer nonetheless: Did he have any interest in being the most powerful vice president in history?
When Kasich's adviser asked how this would be the case, Donald Jr. explained that his father's vice president would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy.
Then what, the adviser asked, would Trump be in charge of?
'Making America great again' was the casual reply."
The Trump team -- including Don. Jr. -- insisted no such offer had been made. But Kasich confirmed the account to CNN's Jake Tapper.
Even in his past life as a developer, Trump was primarily concerned with being the public face of the operation rather than the behind-the-scenes guy who got into the nitty gritty of the deal. He was the closer, swooping in when the deal was done to put his unique stamp on it -- and then talk about what a great deal it was to any and everyone who would listen.
Giving all of that history, the descriptions of Trump as less interested in the policy details around health care than convincing Republican Senators to be for some sort of bill and to declare victory are entirely consistent with who we know he was before running for office. Trump is a big picture guy. He's the face. The specifics he has always left to other people.
That he appears to be doing so in the health care debate should surprise, roughly, no one.