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One of Donald Trump’s major themes on the 2016 campaign trail was the need to improve the health care offerings afforded to America’s veterans. We’re going to “take care of our veterans like they have never been taken care of before” was a fairly typical stump speech line, though he sometimes shortened it to simply a brief promise to “take care of our vets.”
This was typically laced with references to the spring 2014 VA scandal and devoid of references to the bipartisan reform legislation that passed in the wake of the scandal. Trump didn’t particularly have a policy critique of the Obama administration and never so much as mentioned any of Hillary Clinton’s policy ideas on the issue — the pitch he was making was, broadly, that Democrats didn’t respect or care about veterans as much as he did.
Wednesday he held meetings at his Florida estate with private sector health care leaders to discuss ways to improve things, and then, as described by the New York Times’s Michael Shear, briefed the press on his thinking:
Mr. Trump met with several executives of private hospital systems at his Mar-a-Lago estate on Wednesday. After the meeting, Mr. Trump called out to reporters, saying he wanted to describe his ideas for changes to the Department of Veterans Affairs, but then quickly directed one of his senior aides to describe the proposals under consideration.
The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, provided no details about how the plans would work, how much they would cost, or the possibility of unintended consequences from privatizing part of the V.A.’s sprawling medical system.
Looking back to the campaign trail, it’s not hard to see what Trump was doing. Whether it was taking care of vets or respecting cops or reopening coal mines or getting Americans jobs in steel mills, wherever there was a stereotypically male occupational category, Trump was there to rhetorically elevate its social status.
He did not actually have a specific criticism of the veterans’ health care status quo or a specific plan to improve it, and I think Americans in the relevant parts of the country will soon find that he doesn’t have a plan to bring back coal mining or labor-intensive forms of domestic steel production either. In many cases, that reality probably won’t cost Trump votes. Voting for the guy who praises steel and coal and cops and veterans rather than the woman talking about reducing student debt is at least as much a matter of identity politics as it is a matter of policy. After all, anyone interested enough in the details of veterans’ health policy or energy policy could have figured out pretty quickly that there was no substance to Trump’s plans.
But there probably are some people out there who voted for Trump on the assumption that he had some notion of how to accomplish the things he’s promised. If so, they’re set to be sorely disappointed.