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As a young conservative Congressman, Ron DeSantis supported “reform” of Social Security and Medicare. Nothing about this was unique. Most Republicans shared this stance before Donald Trump semi-hostilely bought the party. His support for destroying the federal retirement program is a huge responsibility – and the governor of Florida has already shown that he lacks the political instincts to mitigate the damage.
DeSantis could have easily embraced the new political reality and jumped into retirement programs like the current Congressional Republicans who claim they have no intention of screwing up Social Security and Medicare. Instead, DeSantis let Trump punch him on the issue by constantly sniping about his distrust on the issue. As my colleague Jonathan Chait recently pointed out:
Donald Trump has unleashed a barrage of accusations and insults against Ron DeSantis on multiple levels of connection with reality, but one line of attack stands out in particular. DeSantis’ previous support for privatization draws attention.
“People were learning that Ron wanted to destroy Social Security and raise its minimum age to 70, and he fought very hard to get it done. Said“He also had, and still does, a strong plan to cut Medicare.”
Now DeSantis’ agents are starting to fight back, mostly developing the “so you old man” argument that Trump has hinted in the past in favor of “qualification reform.” In an interview on Friday, his answer basically amounted to whining about Trump sounding like a Democrat. The Hill Report:
DeSantis said in an interview that Republicans need to be able to discuss program changes, but accused Trump of resorting to “Democratic tactics.”
“Obviously, no one has suggested doing anything to affect the current senior population,” he said.
The pro-DeSantis super PAC launched a TV commercial last month defending him on Social Security and pursuing Trump’s attacks. The interview from DeSantis reflected some of the same framing as the advertisement.
The narrator of an ad released last month said, “Donald Trump is being attacked by Democratic prosecutors in New York.” So why is he spending millions to attack the Republican governor of Florida? Is it? Trump is stealing a page from the Biden vs. Pelosi playbook.”
This interview only underscores that Trump understands retirement program policies and DeSantis doesn’t really. It is true that defending Medicare against endless Republican efforts to cut, limit, or eliminate various elements of the program has been a favorite tactic of Democrats. very popular, just as they are, across voters of all ages and partisanship. The evidence is overwhelming and universal. A March Ipsos poll found that 88% of Americans, including 84% of Republicans, oppose spending cuts on Social Security and Medicare. Having a favorable opinion of Social Security, 79% of Republicans were shown to feel the same way about Medicare. Raising the retirement age is also not popular. According to a recent Quinnipiac survey, 78% of Americans (including 77% of Republicans) oppose that “reform.”
Republicans often avoid offending seniors by proposing gradual cuts to Social Security and Medicare spending for future beneficiaries. That’s why DeSantis said he doesn’t support anything that “affects current seniors.” But this “reform” is also not popular. George W. Bush’s 2005 proposal to partially privatize Social Security benefits for future retirees was rejected by ABC-Washington by nearly four to one. director vote at that time. Public opinion on this issue has not changed. A Fox News poll in March found that 82% of respondents opposed cuts in Social Security limited to future retirees. The same poll also showed that Republican support for measures to subsidize Social Security and Medicare to maintain current benefits has increased significantly over the past decade.
So why do Republican politicians (other than Trump) continue to get this wrong? It’s something they tend to think of as vestiges, something they deeply despise.
His first book articulates theories that have been circulating among the right-wing elite economic elite for decades. Tax redistribution and ballot box spending pose an existential threat to freedom. His dedication to that theory helped drive him to take the position that probably constitutes his greatest political responsibility (in favor of cuts and privatization of Social Security and Medicare).
But Republicans in general do not share this view. They tend to think of Social Security and Medicare as earned benefits rather than redistribution or “welfare” programs. This is partly because they contribute to these programs through payroll taxes (Medicae in particular is heavily subsidized by the General Revenue), and partly because they fund these benefits for a lifetime of work. because they see it as a reward. The psychological link between previous work and future benefits also helps insulate retirement programs from conservative animosity that imposes work requirements on recipients of most other government programs. In this case the work has probably already been done.
Against this very consistent positive sentiment for Social Security and Medicare among Republican voters, especially on issues that most affect the segment of voters most likely to vote in both the primary and general elections. should be an ideology like DeSantis. Trump isn’t bothered by the need for intellectual consistency. He sees political opportunities and agitates without hesitation. And that’s one of the main reasons he’s comfortably leading his DeSantis in his 2024 GOP nominations.