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Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand
New book about the 2020 election.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Trump on Social Security and Abortion

Our latest book is titled Divided We Stand: The 2020 Elections and American Politics. The 2024 race has begun. The nomination phase has effectively ended.  With Super Tuesday, the withdrawal of Nikki Haley, and the State of the Union, the general election campaign has begun.

Abortion and Social Security are probably the Democrats' two best issues this year.  Calder McHugh at Politico:
But now, thanks to an unforced error, Trump has effectively opened the 2024 general election campaign with a return to the third rail he sought to abandon almost a decade ago. Asked in a CNBC interview Monday whether he’d changed his outlook on how to handle entitlements, Trump argued in a word salad-heavy answer that “there is a lot you can do in terms of entitlements, in terms of cutting and also the theft and the bad management of entitlements.”

It’s not obvious from his answer whether he’s had a material change of heart on Social Security, because it’s not obvious what he means at all. In early 2020 he made a similar comment that he quickly walked back, that he would “at some point” look at cutting entitlements; nothing came of it. But this time, his campaign immediately recognized he had stepped on a landmine. A campaign spokesperson tried some cleanup on Monday, arguing that Trump will “continue to strongly protect Social Security and Medicare in his second term.”

By then, though, it was too late. Trump suddenly found himself on the defensive, in the position so many prior GOP nominees have been in. He had given up the tactical advantage he had used to swamp his GOP rivals in the 2016 primary, back when he recognized that, when it came to entitlement reform, the only winning move is not to play.
Recognizing the opportunity, the Biden campaign today released a video of the president watching Trump’s answer, shaking his head, and turning to the camera to say, “this man has no idea what he’s talking about. Over my dead body will he cut Social Security so he can give tax breaks to the super wealthy … This is worth the fight all by itself.”

The entitlement fight isn’t the only ghost of past elections that have inconveniently returned. Since Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022, he has largely avoided articulating a clear position — his stance seems to be coalescing around support for a 15-week or 16-week national ban.

But his strategic ambiguity isn’t sustainable in an election where abortion rights are center stage. This isn’t 2016, when he had yet to appoint three Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade and his Republican primary rivals were attacking him for his formerly pro-choice stance.

In 2024, he owns Dobbs. And, thanks to his recent remarks, Democrats will make sure he owns the longstanding Republican position on entitlement reform. It’s a rough, but somehow familiar, way to kick off the general election.