“It got him elected the first time, and I think it will get him elected the second time,” Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Budget Committee, said of Trump’s rhetoric. “But it’s not going to do anything for our children and grandchildren, and it’s not going to have a program that I’m enjoying right now.”
Others say the GOP has changed for the better in the past 10 years — finally accepting that voters aren’t as divided as elected officials on whether to pursue two-decade-old programs like Sen’s. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) put it.
“I vividly remember someone running a presidential campaign in 2012: Paul Ryan budget, austerity budget,” Hawley said, evoking the former GOP vice presidential candidate’s famous fiscal hawkishness. “I don’t remember that ticket working so well. Personally I don’t care to go back to it.
Trump’s bad news comes at a crossroads domestically for the party, as a panel of senators has been meeting quietly on possible changes to Medicare and Social Security. Trump’s tactics are constraining some Republicans or accepting more modest ideas aimed at ensuring the programs don’t go bankrupt, despite predictions that both will go bankrupt within a decade.
Among the alternative GOP recommendations as the party shapes its approach to the upcoming debt ceiling fight: target fraud and futility; imposing work requirements or raising the qualifying age; And other benefits are formula changes. Many Republicans have also pointed to Sens.’s legislation. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) will create “recovery committees” aimed at negotiating changes designed to save programs in the long term.
It’s enough to send Republican eyes up and down the Capitol.
“The best thing is to ignore him,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said of Trump. Sen. Mic circuits (RS.D.) called Trump’s attack on DeSantis “very unfortunate.”
“We need an adult as president who is going to face tough challenges, tough issues, and be willing to share with the American people how serious it is. We use facts. We don’t use scare tactics,” said Rounds, a member of the Senate’s rights task force.
But Trump clearly sees the promise to leave Medicare and Social Security alone as a winning message. He attacked primary opponent Nikki Haley for a decade of comments about considering entitlement cuts to reduce government growth.
Trump broke down over DeSantis, who voted to gradually raise Medicare’s eligibility age in three of his four impromptu budgets as a congressman, and his former vice president (Mike Pence recently said on CNBC that Social Security and Medicare should be on “a long schedule”).
DeSantis, Pence, and Haley aren’t alone in potentially attacking Trump on the issue. Other potential presidential candidates include South Dakota Gov. Christy Nome, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Sen. Tim Scott (RS.C.), supported the ownership changes.
As the GOP debate over entitlements first flared last month, Trump delivered a brushback pitch to congressional Republicans in a video warning them not to put their finger on Social Security or Medicare as part of the debt ceiling standoff. Even if the GOP folds, aides say he will continue to make the issue of entitlement reform a key part of his campaign.
“It’s not just Trump against the Democrats — it goes to the broader picture of Trump against the establishment,” said one Trump adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “This is a defining policy moment for a lot of Republicans.”
Former President George W. Republicans have long struggled to scale back popular programs, from Bush’s failed Social Security privatization plan to the GOP’s efforts to repeal Obamacare and scale back its Medicaid expansion. Party leaders are now vowing to stay away from entitlements as they pursue yet-to-be-specified spending cuts in exchange for agreeing to raise the debt ceiling in line with Trump.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy He said last month that cuts to Social Security and Medicare are “completely off the table.”
Sen. Kevin Cramer (RN.D.) said Trump had a “knack for simplifying the complex,” while he was irritated by the former president’s “intellectually dishonest” campaign rhetoric on rights. Trump’s allies see it differently, calling out a party they say is more focused on lowering or changing the eligibility age for some of the government’s most popular programs.
Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio) called it “politically stupid” to talk about entitlement cuts.
“I really don’t like the political approach of taking a lot of proposals that mostly benefit popular and Republican voters and point out all the other things that are more important than them.” Vance, who supported Trump, said.
Notably, Trump’s past budgets haven’t exactly aligned with his argument against cutting entitlements. For example, his fiscal year 2021 budget called for steep safety net cuts, including tens of billions of dollars in cuts to Social Security benefits for disabled workers and Medicare reforms designed to deliver about $500 billion in savings without cutting benefits.
Despite dire predictions for the programs’ financial future, Democrats have shown little interest in uniting around their own proposed entitlement changes. But they see an advantage in the GOP split.
Chen said the Republican faction “shows a lack of discipline” on the matter. Mark Warner (D-Va.). “You wouldn’t think this was a group of individuals who had an organized plan on how to deal with our budget, debt and deficit long term.”
The top Democrat on the House Budget Committee gave Trump pleading credit for resonating with his base.
“I give the devil his due,” Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) said. “I think he has a better finger on the pulse of Republican primary voters than the Romney-Ryan divide.”
After a midterm campaign in which Republicans acknowledged the success of rights-themed attacks on GOP Senate candidates, it could also help Democrats capitalize on their opponents’ infighting. Last year Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters toyed with the idea of privatizing Social Security before backing off.
“Telling older people that the plague masters want to privatize Social Security is going to scare them a little bit,” Arizona-based GOP strategist Barrett Marson said of Masters, who is considering another run in 2024.
Meridith McGraw and Holly Otterbein contributed to this report.