The Corner

Politics & Policy

F. H. Buckley, Socialized Medicine, and the ‘Trump Voter’

F. H. Buckley, the law professor who helped organize “Scholars and Writers for Trump” during the election, has written an interesting column for the New York Post this weekend.

The headline: “Why Trump should embrace single-payer health care.”

I know, columnists rarely write their own headlines. But this time it’s on the nose. Buckley writes:

So what would reform look like? Here’s one that’s off the table: Ryancare, a plan only an accountant or a right-wing ideologue could love. It left 20 million Americans without health care but cut expenses. Not to worry, said Ryan, we’re going to have a balanced budget.

I can’t imagine a plan better calculated to play to the stereotype of a heartless Republican Party.

That wasn’t what Trump promised, in any event. What he said he wanted was a plan that would leave no one uninsured.

The simplest way to do this is universal health care, on the Canadian model, with a right of individuals to purchase a Cadillac plan on top of this out of pocket. And there are things that might be added, like removing the ban on reimporting drugs from Canada.

There’s really so much one could say about this, though I’d much rather hear from some of Buckley’s friends, colleagues, and peers. Was this what they had in mind? Knowing many of them, I have to think the vast majority think this is a ridiculous idea that would destroy the GOP. But that’s a possibility Buckley goes on to embrace!

He writes:

Now let me tell you who’d support this. The people who elected Trump in 2016. They weren’t right-wing ideologues. They were people who had lost or who feared they’d lose their jobs. Many were but a few steps away from the diseases of despair, social isolation, drug and alcohol poisonings and suicide that Anne Case and her husband, Nobel laureate Sir Angus Deaton, tell us have lowered the life expectancy of white Americans.

The defeat of RyanCare is thus a victory for the Trump agenda, if used wisely as a means of reinventing the Republican Party as a party of working Americans of all races and ethnicities. Split the Republican Party, if need be. Send the Charles Koch Institute packing. The defeat of RyanCare shows the party needs splitting, if it’s not entirely split already.

I’m not interested in debating the idea we should embrace a policy which is well to the left of Obamacare, just because Donald Trump at times “promised” something that sounded like that. Trump clearly did not understand (as he has recently admitted) what he was talking about on the campaign trail with regards to health care. Destroying the GOP and American health care so Donald Trump can make good on a promise strikes me as, well, ill-advised. (One should also note that Professor Buckley — no relation to WFB — has long believed that Canada, from whence he hails, has a superior system of government to our own).

But I will make one political point. Buckley advances an insinuation one hears all too often these days: That the “Trump voter” or the “people who elected Trump” are one vast undifferentiated mass of down-on-their-luck, on-the-verge of suicide, alcoholics and opiate-addicted sad-sacks. I’m not trying to diminish or disparage anyone truly suffering in America. We’ve got real problems and Trump’s election was in part a call for help by many Americans who felt left behind, abandoned, or disrespected.

But, as a mathematical or statistical proposition, it’s a bit much to say they were “the people who elected Donald Trump.” Sure, maybe they provided him the margin of victory in a handful of counties in Florida and Michigan. But if they did, it was only because rank-and-file Republicans put those states in play in the first place. About 9 percent of people who identify themselves as Democrats voted for Trump (and 7 percent of those who identified as Republican voted for Clinton). This means that the vast, vast majority of “people who elected Donald Trump” were Republicans — good, old-fashioned Republicans. They voted for him in very high numbers. Oh, and, in a great many states, Republican down-ballot candidates out-performed Trump.

So I really don’t know what Buckley is talking about. It’s fine if he wants to champion single-payer health care. It’s fine if he wants to argue that the GOP needs to be destroyed (maybe that was Buckley’s goal all along). But, by an overwhelming super-majority, “the people who voted for Trump” did not vote for either of these things (nor did a similarly large super-majority of the signatories to his letter). F. H. Buckley may think his agenda and Trump’s success are more important than the principles that bind the GOP together, however loosely, but it is quite a stretch for him to claim that the voters gave Trump a mandate to do it.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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