On the cusp of becoming the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump has already begun to hone his general election messages and prep his insurgent candidacy for a matchup with Hillary Clinton.
In much the way disparaging comments directed towards rivals earlier in the GOP contest appeared one-off digs only to crystallize into sustained, defining messages, so, too, can Trump’s seemingly incongruous comments in recent weeks offer insight into the campaign narrative of Trump the nominee.
Moderate-sounding lines on health care, a robust defense of the police force in America and the apparent conservative heresy of complimenting Planned Parenthood have been peppered into Trump’s media appearances and rallies. These are not likely mistakes, but rather the first deliberate steps by Trump to define a general election framework for his renegade candidacy.
Creating a Health Care Foil with Hillary
“We should have gotten rid of the lines around the state so there’s great competition,” Trump said during the CNN/Telemundo GOP debate. “The insurance companies are making a fortune on every single thing they do … I’m going to do what’s right. We have to get rid of the lines around the states so that there’s serious, serious competition.”
Here is the harbinger of a full-throated free-market healthcare proposal from Trump. The mogul may well push forward with a repeal of Obamacare, but will seek to make health care more affordable, and available to citizens by proposing an elimination of state by state insurance markets, in favor of national, cross-state-lines competition.
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Trump, who has praised single-payer systems in other countries, will likely also offer a plan to maintain and expand the application of subsidies under Obamacare to work within a national “no-lines” framework. “Everybody’s got to be covered.” Trump said on 60 Minutes in September. And “the government’s gonna pay for it.”
Trump has sounded a “compassionate conservative” approach to dismantling Obamacare that uses phrases right out of the Democratic heartstring-pulling playbook.
“We’re going to take care of people that are dying on the street because there will be a group of people that are not going to be able to even think in terms of private or anything else, and we’re going to take care of those people,” Trump said during the February 6 GOP debate on ABC News.
By drawing up the foundations of a plan to keep those with subsidized Obamacare plans covered and continuing to expand coverage, Trump will preempt a possible line of attack from Hillary. The Democratic front-runner would relish the opportunity to claim the GOP nominee would do away with coverage for the roughly 7 million Americans receiving subsidies under Obamacare.
But the claim that will not hold merit against Trump and will leave Hillary with only the one straw man to hammer in the healthcare arena — the prescription drug companies, whom she accuses of “jacking up costs.”
Heading Off the ‘War on Women’
“Millions and millions of women — cervical cancer, breast cancer — are helped by Planned Parenthood,” Trump said during the last week’s debate. “So you can say whatever you want, but they have millions of women going through Planned Parenthood that are helped greatly.”
The praise offered by Trump to the largest provider of abortions in America would seem at first glance a heretical, even suicidal position in the throes of a Republican primary. Trump did later clarify he would support defunding the organization if it continued to provide abortions, but has repeatedly offered it praise.
Trump will know Clinton is ready to resurrect the myth of the Republican “War on Women.” Getting out ahead of Clinton by offering Planned Parenthood praise, ensuring his comments get broad media attention specifically because of their odd timing in the primary part of the cycle, will work to stave off any insinuation from Hillary that Trump is out to take away women’s reproductive health options.
Seizing the Mantle of Law and Order
As Trump builds defenses to withstand coming attacks from Hillary on healthcare, he is also prepping his own offensive where Clinton has over-pandered to the Black Lives Matter movement to curry favor within the Democratic base.
The “police are the most mistreated people in this country,” Trump said during the Fox Business debate on January 14, and has begun saying regularly on the trail.
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Violent crime has been spiking across the nation, and particularly hard-hit have been inner cities, as police forces are being held back by a combination of liberal criminal justice reform and plummeting morale in the face of the Black Lives Matter movement.
A January report from the FBI showed an over 6 percent increase in violent crime nationwide in 2015.
Hillary Clinton has thoroughly embraced the anti-police rhetoric of the Black Lives Matter movement that is making America less safe. Trump sees an opportunity to seize the mantle of law and order and stand with the police and concerned families against the rising tide of crime.
The stand for law and order in American towns and cities will dovetail nicely for Trump with his commitment to rolling back the damage of a lawless system of immigration.
After a long, brutal GOP primary slog that many in the Establishment still contend is not over, the finer points of a Trump general election candidacy are beginning to emerge. Hillary can expect to be up against a populist powerhouse. Trump will be prepared to parry attacks on healthcare and women, take the fight to her on law and order, and stand for the American worker against the insider forces of Washington.