WASHINGTON – Will Donald Trump’s presidency get rotted out?
Steve Jobs might have said so.
Back in 1995, when the tech god was between gigs at Apple, when he had learned a thing or three about leadership by being snaked out of his own company by John Sculley, he gave an interview positing that empires could crash and burn if the emphasis was on sales rather than product.
“The companies forget what it means to make great products,” Jobs said. “The product sensibility and the product genius that brought them to that monopolistic position gets rotted out by people running these companies who have no conception of a good product versus a bad product. They have no conception of the craftsmanship that’s required to take a good idea and turn it into a good product. And they really have no feeling in their hearts usually about wanting to really help the customers.”
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In “The Art of the Deal,” Trump said that playing to people’s fantasies and promising the greatest product was “an innocent form of exaggeration.”
But it’s one thing when you do that for condos and cologne and mattresses and steaks. It’s another for life-or-death health care policy.
Trump has twice pushed to pass disgraceful health care bills without even trying to grasp what’s in them – or more important, what’s not in them. He couldn’t care less that the dog’s breakfast served up by the House on Thursday wounds the struggling Americans he had promised to lift up.
It is “something terrific,” as he vowed, but only for the superrich who are getting a Marie Antoinette wealth transfer at the expense of health care for the poor.
The president feted his fake-news “win” in the Rose Garden, sprinkling flimflam dust to deflect from his ludicrous legislation. Paul Ryan slobbered over Trump’s leadership even as the Senate made plans to shred the House bill and start over.
“Hey, I’m president,” Trump told his sycophants, or in this case, sickophants. “Can you believe it, right?”
No, I can’t.
In a moment of clueless cynicism, hours after the ego festival in the Rose Garden, Trump sat in a tuxedo with the Australian prime minister on the Intrepid and said Australians have better health care than Americans – harking back to his old statements in support of universal health care.
Presidents have to be good salesmen. Barack Obama faltered because he hated selling and simply lectured. He even outsourced the job of selling his re-election bid at the 2012 convention to a former antagonist, Bill Clinton.
Hillary was not good at salesmanship either. The new book “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign,” reports that at one point, her 2016 team got so flummoxed at her inability to explain why she wanted to be president that they actually considered the slogan “Because It’s Her Turn.”
Trump did care about his product when he built Trump Tower. He obsessed over every detail of a building that was the flashy emblem of New York bursting out of the dark ‘70s and into the booming ‘80s.
“But the success of that went to his head and he never cared again,” his biographer Tim O'Brien told me. “He’s fundamentally lazy. He free-rides so many processes he doesn’t know anything about. He used to do it in the business world, and now he does it in the political world.
“He’s not a student of anything other than protecting his image. What he cares about is how he’s perceived, not the nuts and bolts of things. He is essentially a performance artist.”
When Trump talked to John Dickerson for “Face the Nation” last Sunday, he said the big difference between business and politics was that in Washington, “you really need heart, because you’re talking about a lot of people. Whereas in business, you don’t need so much heart. You want to make a good deal.”
But with health care, Trump wanted to make a deal so badly he was heartless. One Republican senator, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, said that he would not vote for a health care bill that does not pass “the Jimmy Kimmel test”: “Would the child born with a congenital heart disease be able to get everything he or she would need in that first year of life?”
The House Republicans just wanted Trump off their backs. They had never pulled a real bill together because they thought Hillary would win and they could just snipe at her. The Irish undertaker and his crew were so desperate to prove they had not totally forgotten how to pass anything that they were willing to go with garbage. And Ryan wanted to save the bacon – or bratwurst – of his fellow Wisconsin buddy Reince Priebus, blamed by Trump for the first health care defeat. After that debacle, The Times reported, Trump started merging the two names into one mocking “Ryan-ce.”
But in delivering this win for Trump, they may well have delivered a way for Democrats to take the president down. The Democrats could win the House back and get their investigative machinery cranking. The Cook Political Report has now downgraded the 2018 re-election chances of 20 House Republicans.
Trump cares only about optics, and yet he and Ivanka, his glossy shield on women’s issues, do not seem to realize the bad optics of a viral photo of a crowd of guys applauding themselves for gutting health care protections for women.
The Republicans now have a pre-existing condition: They voted for something that will cause them a lot of pain in the future.